The Different Types of Editing
Updated: Apr 30, 2020
If you are considering an editor for the first time, you may be uncertain what each type of editing entails and what your manuscript needs. Perhaps your editing request is a vague "make it better," without much direction on what to focus on specifically. If you want to get the most out of your editing investment, you can take a moment to brush up on the types of editing and evaluate which type your project needs.
Among the many editors you may be considering, each editor will likely have their own specific definitions for each type of edit. With this in mind, it is important to understand exactly what you will get out of the editing. While one editor may charge twice as much for a copyedit as someone else, the price difference may mean that their interpretation of a copyedit is a lot more comprehensive, meaning you'll get more for your money. When comparing editors, be sure to compare the more detailed aspects of their editing processes so that you are fully informed.
With that in mind, I have provided my definitions for the types of editing I offer.
1. Comprehensive edit
A comprehensive edit is typically the first stage of the editing process, and it takes a particular focus on developing the big-picture aspects of your manuscript. During this edit, don't expect your editor to focus on grammar, spelling, or sentence structure. Since they'll be suggesting big-picture changes, there's a good chance that you'll do some rewriting, so it is best to wait until after the rewrite to focus on grammar and word choice.
In a comprehensive edit, your editor will focus on the following and more.
Organization of plot points, paragraphs, chapters, etc.
Addition and/or deletion of content
Point of view
Keep in mind that your manuscript won't be returned with a complete rewrite already implemented, but rather with suggestions that you can contemplate and implement yourself. To help you navigate the suggested changes, I provide an editorial letter that summarizes the key points of my comprehensive editing and uses specific examples to make more suggestions as needed.
If you're not sure if a comprehensive edit would be beneficial to you, then check out the reasons explained in this blog post. If you've already determined, however, that you could use a fresh set of eyes to evaluate your manuscript, then hopefully the above description can help you understand what a comprehensive edit would entail. If there are any other specific requests or concerns you had in mind, don't hesitate to ask your editor whether or not their comprehensive edit may include that!
The definition of a copyedit is where a lot of editors vary, which is why you may see a great degree of variance in pricing between editors. Personally, I prefer to offer a relatively inclusive version of a copyedit. Depending on your manuscript's specific needs, I will focus on grammar, spelling, word choice, sentence structure, and style consistency. A copyedit is intended to take a much more detail-oriented focus than a comprehensive edit, which is why it comes after a comprehensive edit. However, if I spot any big-picture issues that need immediate attention, I may also leave a comment pointing you toward that. Just don't expect the focus of the edit to be on the big picture, since I will be reading with a focus on details.
After a copyedit, I will provide a style sheet, which you can refer to in the future. The style sheet will list out preferred spellings and uses of names, locations, terminology, and other items that may differ throughout the work. Prior to editing, we will discuss specific style guides and any particular focus you would like the editing to have.
This is the final stage! If you are already working with a specific book publisher, magazine, or journal, this stage will likely include a focus on the formatting of the manuscript. Format editing would ensure that the document uses fonts, headings, and margins approved by the publisher, that page numbers are correct, and that there are no awkward line breaks.
However, since I often work with self-publishing authors or authors who have not signed with a publisher yet, format editing is not always a necessary step for them yet. With that in mind, I offer a final read-through that focuses primarily on making sure that no additional errors were introduced during the implementation of previous edits. This is the final sweep for lurking errors. The changes after proofreading should be minimal, which is a good sign that your manuscript is well-polished.
Don't get ahead of yourself.
Be wary about putting the success of your novel on your editor's shoulders. If you hand them a weak first draft just because you're ready to get it out of your own hands, they'll certainly be able to help with the plot, characters, pacing, and all the developmental aspects, but there will be so much to cover that they may not be able to fully fine-tune your project. The more polished the draft, the easier it will be to fine-tune and develop your work during the editing phase. Check out this article if you need some guidance on knowing when to request an editor.
The three types of editing mentioned above are intended to work together to create the best final product. If you only have a comprehensive edit, your project will likely still have many detail-oriented errors such as a grammar or word-choice errors. Likewise, if you only have a copyedit, your project may be weak in regard to the big picture. One round of editing will likely not make your project flawless and ready to be published, so keep in mind that it is a process with many stages. When considering hiring an editor, be sure to account for the time that it may take you to implement the suggested changes and edits in between rounds.