If you’re a writer, by now you likely personally understand the phrase: all writing is rewriting. Writers get an idea, convert that idea into a draft, and then edit, edit, edit until they’re satisfied with every word.
It’s a long process, but knowing the impact writing makes in the lives of readers is worth it.
Here’s some good news: You can shorten the process.
Taking the time to really understand the different types of editing and which one is best for your particular process will save you time and energy. It will also help get your book out into the world with edits specific to your book’s needs, and take it from good to great.
As said above, all writing is rewriting. But there are different types of rewriting. Each type of rewrite focuses on a different aspect of your story. Depending on what you’re writing, why you’re writing it, and who you’re writing it for will play a big part in choosing what type of editing is best for you.
Why are there different types of editing?
Just as there are different types of workouts to target specific health goals, there are different types of editing to target different writing goals.
To continue with the workout example, let’s say you’ve been working out for several years and feel you’ve plateaued. If you’ve done the same workout every day for quite awhile, you may want to consider a different workout.
At this point in your healthy and fitness journey, you may reach out to a personal trainer or join a fitness class.
These options will provide you with different workouts to choose from, based on your specific goals.
If your goal is to gain muscle mass, you’ll likely take part in different workouts than if your goal is to lose overall body weight.
The same is true for writing.
If you’re writing YA fantasy and haven’t met your word count goal yet, the editing you’ll undergo will look very different than if you’ve maxed out your word count goal by 30-thousand words.
One type of editing will help you dive into developing characters (adding words) while a different type of editing will help you cut unnecessary scenes and therefore cut your word count.
So, let’s talk about editing specifics.
What are the different types of editing?
There are several types of editing, but for the purposes of this article, we will cover four.
1. Mechanical editing
Mechanical editing, according to the Chicago Manual of Style, 17th Edition, “Involves the consistent application of a particular style to a written work–including text and documentation and any tables and illustrations… Mechanical editing also includes attention to grammar, syntax, and usage.”
Especially for nonfiction writing, mechanical editing can be extremely helpful. Creating outstanding copy for a book is crucial, but so is the overall layout. Mechanical editing helps ensure the format of a book adds to the copy of a book, rather than distracting from it.
If you’re writing a book on how to implement healthy eating into your lifestyle, and include tables with recipes, it’s important you use the same measurement system throughout, or if you offer options, not to confuse them within the same recipe. Grammar should also be noted.
For example, consider the copy below:
When I was in college I decided to start learning how to eat in a more healthy fashion, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep. Both of these habits was a huge impact on my overall health.
A mechanical editor would likely make the following edits:
When I was in college I decided to start learning [avoid -ing words, perhaps “Decided to learn” instead] how to eat in a more healthy fashion, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep [Oxford comma, good]. Both of these habits was [All of these habits were] a huge impact on my overall health.
Sometimes it’s easy to make simple mistakes, and employing a fresh pair of eyes to catch those mistakes can take your manuscript from rough draft to polished edit.
2. Substantive editing
According to the Chicago Manual of Style, 17th Edition, substantive editing, “Deals with the organization and presentation of existing content. It involves rewriting to improve style or to eliminate ambiguity, reorganizing or tightening disorganized or loosely written sections, adjusting or recasting tables, and other remedial editing.”
Think of substantive editing as organizing a how-to guide. To break it down into a simple example, let’s use the concept of baking brownies, out of a box.
If you need substantive editing, your copy may look like this:
To bake brownies, it’s important to pour the batter evenly into the pan. You will want to put the dry ingredients in one bowl. Grease the pan. You should combine and then mix the wet and dry ingredients together. Make sure you remove the brownies from the oven before they burn. Turn the oven to the appropriate temp.
There are a myriad of issues with the above copy. A substantive edit may make the following changes:
To bake brownies, it’s important to pour the batter evenly into the pan. Turn the oven to the appropriate temp. You will want to put the dry ingredients in one bowl. Grease the pan. You will want to put the dry ingredients in one bowl. You should combine and then mix the wet and dry ingredients together. To bake brownies, it’s important to pour the batter evenly into the pan. Make sure you remove the brownies from the oven before they burn. Turn the oven to the appropriate temp.
The verbiage didn’t change, but the order did. Sometimes verbiage will need to change to better reflect the intention of the copy. Overall, substantive editing takes what is already there and makes it a more cohesive whole.
3. Developmental editing
Developmental edits, like most edits, happen during the revision process. This edit will focus on improving the manuscript as a whole and focuses on major elements such as overall plot, character development. The relationship between an editor and writer when developmental edits are being made is focused on notes, rather than the editor making the changes on their own.
Usually the developmental editor will read through the manuscript and note areas for improvement or areas of issue.
For example, consider the copy below. As you read, try to make your own notes:
Sally hurried through the park, looking over her shoulder. John sat on the bench ahead, waiting under full sun. She reached him out of breath and shivering.
“Are you ok?” He quickly stood.
She rubbed her cold arms with sweaty hands. “I thought I saw…”
A developmental editor may include the following type of imbedded notes:
Sally hurried through the park, looking over her shoulder. John sat on the bench ahead, waiting under full sun, sweating. She reached him out of breath and shivering [Why is Sally shivering if it’s a hot sunny day?].
“Are you ok?” He quickly stood.
She rubbed her cold arms with sweaty hands [The dichotomy of her being hot and cold is confusing. Clarify?] . “I thought I saw…”
4. Proof edit
Proof editing, or proofing, is the last stage of editing and is done with the finalized copy of the manuscript. This is the final stage of edits, so hiring the right person to proof your manuscript is essential.
A proof editor will look for issues in format, misspellings, grammar issues, inconsistencies, etc. This is the last chance to correct issues before the manuscript goes to print. Fresh eyes are crucial during this type of edit to ensure typos are caught and fixed.
After he purchased the ring, he went to the bakery to. With a fresh cinnamon role in hand, he walked back to their meeting spot.
A proof editor would catch the following issues:
After he purchased the ring, he went to the bakery to [too]. With a fresh cinnamon role [roll] in hand, he walked back to their meeting spot.
5. Line edit
A line editor will edit your manuscript line by line, paying careful attention to every line, literally, of your manuscript. The arrangement of words in a sentence, the power a sentence does or does not carry, strength of dialogue lines, etc., all of this is what a line editor will focus on.
“I just feel really sad and I’m lonely and discouraged.” She said through tears. She reeled the fish in, unhooked it, and tossed it back into the lake.
“How can I help?” Her friend started the boat’s engine.
A line editor may change the dialogue structure to add more power:
“I just feel really sad,”
and I’m lonely and discouraged.” [Try breaking up dialogue to show how someone would actually speak when crying] she said through tears. “And I’m lonely and discouraged.” She reeled the fish in, unhooked it, and tossed it back into the lake.
“How can I help?” Her friend started the boat’s engine.
Which type of editing is best for me?
The best editing for you depends on where you’re at in your writing journey. However, if you are close to publishing, especially if you’re self-publishing, you will likely want to hire a professional editor to give you a solid line edit, developmental edit, and proof.
Here are some questions to ask when deciding how to move forward:
- Have I gone through line by line or would it help to have a professional do so?
- Are there any big picture issues beta readers have pointed out or that a developmental editor would catch?
- Am I blind to my writing after this many edits, and would a proof editor catch issues I would miss?
No matter how great your writing is or how far you’ve come, the amount of time you’ve poured into your manuscript can easily result in blinding you to your own work.
This is not because you don’t have an eye for writing, but simply because you’ve had your eyes on your writing for so long!
A great editor can catch issues you might miss, point out areas of strength to expand on, and scenes where the action sags or you lose readers.
Whichever type of edit is best for you remember, editors edit because they love stories. They are for you. They want to see your story become the best it can be.
Find an editor that specializes in the type of editing you need, that you connect with, and that has a passion for your story.
Then let them do the work, carefully incorporate their edits, and see how your story takes shape! You’ll be surprised how much a good editor helps.
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