If you’re going it alone as an indie author, it can be confusing as to the various types of editing available. There are different stages to the traditional editing model, and it’s entirely up to you which you choose for your book. Some writers go the whole hog, from a structural edit onwards, while others opt for just a copy-edit and/or a proofread. Bear in mind that there can be some overlap in what the work entails, especially between a line edit and copy-edit, so it’s important to clarify with your editor beforehand what you expect from them, and what they can offer you. Hopefully this short guide will be of some help.
The first stage of the process is the structural edit (also known as the substantive or developmental edit). Generally speaking, it looks at the ‘big picture’. This includes the overall storytelling; story arcs in the novel and within chapters; the structure of the book and its pace; the point of view (POV) (e.g. is the novel being told in a first-person voice or third, and is it consistent?); the order of events; character development; the ‘voice’ of the novel; and ensuring the story has a strong ending. A structural editor won’t be concerned with things like spelling and punctuation – that comes later.
The second stage is the line edit. This covers subjective/stylistic areas such as ensuring that people’s actions and tone of voice are consistent with their respective characters in the novel; avoiding too much explaining of events – ‘show, don’t tell’ being the adage that writers are always encouraged to remember; checking for slips in POV on a micro level; and avoiding the use of clichés. This isn’t to say that a line editor will try to enforce their style on you. As with any edit, suggestions are exactly that – suggestions. You as the author retain control of your work.
The line editor is usually less focused on the ‘mechanical’ side of things like spelling and punctuation, which is where a copy-editor comes in. They will check these, as well as consistency of spelling (towards/toward; learned/learnt; hold-all/holdall etc etc.); apply a house style for elements such as capitalisation, hyphenation and the use of -ise or -ize endings; ensure everything makes sense by flagging ambiguities; highlight missing words or repetition of words/phrases; keep notes about people and events so that someone doesn’t have black hair on one page and auburn on another; and ensure the timeline of events is logical. A copy-editor would also normally check that paragraph indentation is consistent, quote marks are all curly, and chapter numbers are in the right order.
I mentioned at the top of the page that there can be overlaps in the types of editing. So, for example, POV errors (often known as ‘head hopping’), usually come under the remit of a structural or line edit. However, I have had some training in POV, so if I spot something while copy-editing, I will of course flag it for your attention and hopefully suggest an amendment. Similarly, while I’m not there to analyse the narrative style or characters’ tone of voice, I do think a good copy-editor should be able to ‘feel’ when something is wrong, and make suggestions that could sharpen the text. So if something sounds clunky or awkward to me, I will highlight it and offer an alternative suggestion. I’ve had writers tell me that when doing a copy-edit I have ‘gone beyond the brief’, which I’m happy to do if I think it will help their novel.
The final part of the process is the proofread, which looks for errors or inconsistencies in spelling, grammar and punctuation that were missed by the copy-editor, or anything that has slipped in while the author has gone through the copy-editor’s suggestions. It is the last opportunity to check the text for mistakes before it is typeset/formatted. However, a word of caution: if you are thinking of proofreading your own work – don’t. It is nigh-on impossible to spot all the errors in your writing, and this applies to experienced authors as well as first-time writers. It’s something to do with the brain knowing what’s coming because you wrote it, so rather than dispassionately looking for errors, it skims the text and fills in what it thinks is there.
But that’s just something I read…