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Every book requires editing. It is an essential part of the writing process. But editing is not a single occurrence where one pass fixes everything. Instead, there are four key stages of editing that each have their own focus. You want to make sure you are revising in the right order so that your book ends up in the best shape possible.
In this post, I will be covering the four key stages of editing, what they entail, and what you can expect from each.
The first thing you need to know is that there are two levels of edits, macro and micro, and that there are certain types of editing that fall within each level.
Macro: These are the big-picture edits that look at your book as a whole. This is where developmental editing (sometimes also called substantive editing, structural editing, or content editing) and manuscript evaluations (sometimes also called manuscript reviews or manuscript critiques) come into play. Macro edits examine elements of your story such as plot, pacing, character growth, etc.
Micro: This is when sentence-level editing takes place. Line editing, copyediting, and proofreading all fall within this level of editing. Micro edits examine your story line-by-line and word-by-word to ensure there is nothing that will trip up your readers. In addition to clarity and readability, this level of editing focuses on proper word usage, grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
Four Key Types of Editing
Four Key Stages of Editing
This stage is the first step in the overall editing process and takes place before you begin intensive macro-level edits.
Beta reading is when authors send their novels to test-readers in order to receive feedback on structural issues such as plot, pacing, characterization, and writing style. This is a good chance to receive an outside perspective on your plot and characters.
There are many ways to get beta readers. You can ask friends and family, your community (readers or fellow writers) or you can commission professional beta reading services.
This stage is all about the macro edits.
Developmental edits are all about shaping your story and making sure it is one that people will want to read.
This big-picture edit looks at your story as a whole, examining the fundamentals of your novel and reworking any weak points.
Developmental editing involves decisions that affect how your story works as a whole—plot, story arc, structure, pacing, characterization, narrative viewpoint, and tense.
A developmental editor may:
- Advise on any pacing issues
- Examine the plot and look out for any plot holes or inconsistencies and offer suggestions on how you can restructure or improve the plot
- Make suggestions to strengthen the voice or make it more consistent
- Examine your character development and offer suggestions to strengthen any underdeveloped characters
Different editors handle developmental edits in different ways but a developmental edit often includes detailed notes in the margins of your manuscript along with a memo or report that summarizes your editor’s notes, response to your manuscript, its structure, and style, and provides in-depth feedback and advice on revisions. Make sure to check what you are being offered against what you are looking for.
Developmental editing is not about checking spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
A manuscript evaluation or critique can be thought of as a mini developmental edit.
It involves an examination of some of the same big-picture elements but actual editing takes place. In other words, no changes are made to the book file. Instead, the editor prepares a report that analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of the writing, and provides feedback.
This is an affordable option for authors who might not be ready to commit to developmental editing or who want to learn how to implement their own structural revisions.
With this type of editing, you hire a specialist to report on potential misrepresentations of marginalized others. They will look out for cliched, harmful, or biased content as well as non-inclusive language.
Sensitivity readers can focus on how certain identities are being represented, such as race, sexuality, gender, physical ability, mental/emotional health, religion, and culture. A sensitivity reader may also identify potential issues with the portrayal of characters who have experienced abuse, trauma, illness, loss, bigotry, violence, and poverty.
This is a valuable addition to the editing process, but you will want to make sure that you hiring a sensitivity reader with solid knowledge and experience.
This stage is when the micro edits come into play. Now that the plot is clear and engaging, it is time to smooth and correct your writing.
Line editing is the next step in the editing process and is stylistic work that improves the readability of your writing. It is editing done at the sentence level and is not meant to address issues with the plot or pacing of your novel as a whole.
- Trim words, phrases, or sentences that are extraneous and do not contribute to the story
- Tighten dialogue, point out inconsistencies, tonal shifts, and unnatural phrasing
- Add words or phrases to clarify or enhance your meaning
- Rearrange sentences and passages or suggest new ones to improve the pacing and establish a good rhythm
- Address told versus shown prose
Mini Line-Level Critiques
These are mini line- and copyedits. The editor provides a report that analyzes the strength and weaknesses of the author’s sentence-level writing. No changes will be made to the book file itself, but the editor will use examples from the book to show how improvements can be made.
This is an affordable first step for an author who is looking to learn how to implement their own sentence-level edits or wants to get an idea of what the sentence-level editing process entails.
Copyediting, like line editing, is sentence-level work, but it instead addresses flaws on a technical level.
- Corrects spelling, grammar, punctuation, and syntax
- Ensures consistency in spelling, hyphenation, numerals, fonts, and capitalization
- Corrects dialogue tags
- Fact checks
- Examines POV/tense (flag, or if possible, fix any unintentional shifts)
- Examines word usage and repetition
- Checks for potential legal liability (flag potential libel or copyright issues)
- Descriptive inconsistencies (character descriptions, locations, etc)
- Accuracy of scenes (medical situations, police scenarios, legal scenes)
- Flags tracking/continuity problems
- Flags plot holes
Line editing and copyediting are complementary processes and editors often carry them out at the same time.
You’ve made it to the final step of the editing process, the quality-control stage.
Proofreading is the final step in the editing process that looks for any technical errors or formatting issues that may have survived the other rounds of editing or were introduced during the design stage. Proofreading is only about making sure your novel is neat and tidy for publication.
Authors can ask proofreaders to either annotate final page proofs, usually in PDF format or to amend the raw text, usually in a Microsoft Word document.
In addition to making sure there are no pesky typos, proofreaders check for consistency of spelling, punctuation, and grammar, as well as layout problems such as (but not limited to) indentation, line spacing, inconsistent chapter drops, missing page numbers, and font and heading styles.
Proofreading is the last line of defense and should not be the only type of editing your book goes through.
What level of editing is right for you?
Honestly, you need to take your book through every level of editing but that does not mean you have to hire for every stage. Writing groups, self-study courses, how-to books, and self-publishing organizations are all great sources of editorial support
Struggle with punctuation? I’ve created a free apostrophe guide which you can grab here. You might also consider grabbing this book:
If you decide to invest in professional editing and are working on a budget, think about where you are weakest. Do you need help with story development but have those grammar rules nailed down? Maybe sentence-level editing always trips you up. Be honest with your self about what kind of help you need most and invest in that type of editing.
And remember the different stages of editing and what order they should take place. You don’t want to be fixing plot holes at the proofreading stage.
Looking for an editor?
If you are in the market for line editing, copyediting, or proofreading, I offer those services through my business, That Bookish Brunette Literary Services. Learn more about my editorial services here.
Thanks for reading! Have any questions about the editing process? Let me know in the comments below!