So you need an editor for your book?

I’m often contacted by writers who’ve finished their book and know they should have it edited before self-publishing or approaching an agent and/or traditional publisher. When I ask them what kind of editing they need, invariably they don’t know. Or they think they know, and then decide that it’s not what they need after all. Or they think they know, and I start editing—and the book needs more work than I anticipated.

As an editor, you only get a sense of the work required when you appraise a couple of sample chapters, and have to trust that the author knows what they need. This is  not always the case, which is why I have a form to help gauge where the author is in their writing journey.

But I digress. To help you cut through the confusion, I’ve prepared this explanation that differentiates between the kinds of editing that an editor can help you with. There are three main types of editing: proofreading, copyediting and developmental (structural) editing. You may have heard them called light, medium and heavy edits.

Proofreading (light edit)

When your book is typeset by a publisher, a “draft” copy of your book is produced before the final print run or digital file is loaded. This draft has the text laid out with any drawings, photos, tables or charts that need to be included, and it’s called a “proof”. You might also hear the terms “galley proof” or “galley” used.

Proofreading is the final stage before publishing. The editor will check and make sure that there are no typos, spelling or punctuation errors, and fix inconsistencies. Proofreaders will also make sure there are no formatting errors like widows and orphans, which makes reading distracting and the layout of the book unattractive. The proofreader will read the proof carefully to ensure it is error free before the book is printed or goes live.

Once the book is printed, nothing can be changed until the next print run—which is why proofreading is so important. Digital publishing is a little different because changes can be made quickly and a new file easily loaded.

Copyediting (medium edit)

In case you didn’t know, “copy” is another word for text. The copyeditor’s job is to address technical issues like grammar, syntax and look for any inconsistencies. Typos, punctuation and spelling errors will also be corrected as part of this process. It’s a given that any major issues should have been addressed or ironed out in the heavy edit stage before you get to the copyediting stage.

The work is usually done on a Word file with all changes by the editor tracked, and comments added to explain changes or suggestions made to improve clarity. It’s the author’s job to go through the edits and either accept or reject the changes and make any revisions that improve readability of the book.

Of course, the author doesn’t have to take on board any of the copyeditor’s suggestions, but then why would you hire one if you were going to ignore them?

Developmental editing  (heavy edit)

The most time consuming editing process is the developmental, or structural edit. The heavy edit happens early in the drafting process, after the author has rewritten the manuscript, usually at least a couple of times. The editor will often include copyediting and proofreading as part of the service, as well as critical insight into the story elements, including:

  • Structure
  • Themes
  • Setting
  • Plotting
  • Timeline/s
  • Characters and their arcs

Some developmental editors may provide advice about marketability of the book, and the look and feel in terms of cover and graphics.

Not every book needs a heavy edit. Often authors can get away with in-depth feedback via their writing group (if they have one) or good beta readers, which sort out any issues. If you are skipping the developmental editor, and that’s totally fine, make sure you get your feedback from competent readers.

To sum up

  1. A proofread is the last stage of the writing process, and happens right before publication, when the book is definitely 100% ready to be printed or loaded to an ebook retailer.
  2. Copyediting happens when the author, after a few rewrites, is absolutely, positively sure that the book is as good as it gets.
  3. Developmental editing is done early in the drafting process and irons out any structural problems with the book that could derail the story.

Are you ready?

If you’re not sure what kind of editing you think you need, email me.

If you know what you need and you’d like to organise a quote for editing your book, please help me to help you by completing this form.


Image by Martine Auvray from Pixabay