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. You can also find more information at the Society for Editors and Proofreaders HERE.
The first stage of the process is the structural edit (also known as the substantive or developmental edit). Generally speaking, this looks at the ‘big picture’, i.e. the overall storytelling, the arcs in the novel and within chapters, the structure of the book and its pace, the order of events, character development, and the ‘voice’ of the novel. A structural editor won’t be concerned with grammar or punctuation – that comes later with the copy-edit.
The second is the line-edit. This will cover areas such as slips in point of view (POV) (e.g. does the narrative change in places from being told in a first person voice to third person?); the consistency of characters’ actions and voices (is what they do and say consistent with them as a person?); is there too much explaining of events – ‘show, don’t tell’ being the adage that writers are always encouraged to remember; are the characters and events believable?; does the story have a strong ending? 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 won’t usually look at things like spelling, grammar 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; spot 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, spotting POV slips (known as ‘head hopping’), is usually considered a line editor’s job. However, if I do happen to spot something while copy-editing, I will of course flag it for your attention. Similarly, while I’m not there to analyse the narrative style, or everything that each character says in the context of the overall story, I do think a good copy-editor should be able to sharpen text. So if something sounds overly clunky or awkward to me, I will highlight it and offer an alternative suggestion.
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 the errors in your writing, and this applies to first-time writers as well as experienced authors. It’s something to do with the brain knowing what’s coming, so rather than looking coldly for typos, it skims the text. But that’s just something I read…