Today’s post is the final in my series on editing. I’ve talked about content editing, copy editing, and now we’ll look at proofreading. If you have a manuscript that you believe needs to be proofread before sending out, and you hire someone to proof it, you need to know upfront exactly what kind of service you will receive.

I learned early on when I started doing freelance editing and proofing that most people do not know the difference among the various types of editing. An author would hire me to do a proofread, so that’s what I would do, but then he would be unhappy because I didn’t catch his errors in sentence structure or paragraph organization. I quickly learned to ask a lot of questions to find out precisely what kind of editing a client wants and expects. As a writer, you need to do the same. Be very clear when you’re hiring an editor so that you both know exactly what the expectations are upfront.

If you ask for a proofread, this is what you’ll get: Your manuscript will be checked for typos, misspelled words, missing words, incorrect word usage, incorrect punctuation, inconsistencies in formatting (different-sized headings or subheads, for example), incorrect indentation of paragraphs or sections of the manuscript, correct formatting of notes and references (at the proofing stage, facts are typically not checked again, unless specifically requested), correct pagination, capitalization errors, correct use of italics and other effects.

If you need more than this checked on your manuscript, you will then need to ask for a copy edit, or perhaps even a content edit. At a typical publishing house, a manuscript normally will get proofread three times by three separate people–this is in addition to the layers of content editing and copy editing that it receives. If you are working with an independent proofreader, you should expect to have your manuscript read through twice in order to catch all the errors. It is nearly impossible to get everything on a single read.

Because of the varying degrees of work necessary for the different types of editing, the price you will be charged will also vary from proofing to copy editing to content editing, increasing in cost from proofing to content editing. I hesitate to add prices here because the market fluctuates, as in any industry, and the prices I quote will quickly be outdated.

My best advice is to contact at least three editors, ask for the same type of editing, and find out what each charges. They should all be within the same basic range. If one is extremely low or high, don’t rule that person out, but find out why. Maybe her experience level is very different from the others.

In addition to price, you’ll want to know how long the editor has worked in the editing field, what types of editing can she do, what are her strengths and weaknesses (some may only do nonfiction, for example), if she’s always worked as a freelancer or if she’s also worked in-house at a publishing company (this is simply helpful to know because an editor who has worked for a publisher may have more in-depth knowledge of the whole process, which can be helpful), how she will indicate changes on your manuscript (using Track Changes in Word, highlighting them, changing font color, etc.), and what the turnaround time will be.

I would also ask for at least one reference. Sometimes writers like to ask to see examples of previous edits the editor has done. I have to admit, I have never saved my editing work! Some editors might, but I know there are many like me who don’t, so this request may not get you too far. Instead, what is more helpful, is to ask if the editor could do a sample edit on your manuscript. I often offer this to customers, especially if they are unsure of the process and don’t really know what to expect from my editing. I will usually edit one or two pages, focusing on the type of editing they are asking for.

If you ask for this sample edit from three editors, you’ll get a very good idea of what to expect from each and which one you’ll probably want to work with. Before hiring an editor, be very clear on your deadline. If you need to get your manuscript to a publisher or agent by a certain date, be sure to add some margin into your time frame for your finished edit. It’s likely that you and your editor will go back and forth on changes, especially at the content and copy edit level, and that may take time.

I tried to cover all of the basics and then some about the editing process in these four posts, but if you have any additional specific questions, please post a comment, and I’ll do my best to answer for you.

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So far, I’ve discussed big-picture editing, also known as content or substantive editing–for both fiction and nonfiction–and looked at how to hire an editor that does that type of work. With this post, we’re going to look at the next level down, so to speak, which is line editing.

Line editing is a lot like how it sounds–an editor will go through your manuscript line by line, searching for mistakes in grammar, word choice and usage, sentence structure (Are the adverbs and adjectives in the right place? Did the writer split his infinitives?), and punctuation (Was a semi-colon used instead of a colon?).

In addition to searching for mistakes, a good copy editor will also check for things like redundancies (“12 pm noon,” “stand up,” and so forth), making sure that sentences are as strong as possible (this usually means trading in adjectives and adverbs for strong, descriptive nouns and verbs), eliminating wordiness, and overall, making sure that the writing is as clear as possible. Line editors also search for “pet” words or phrases that are used over and over, changing or eliminating them as needed.

Another big part of a line editor’s job is to research the facts that a writer has included in her manuscript. Even if the work is fiction, the manuscript should be fact-checked for accuracy. Whether the subject matter is science, history, or geography, nothing will cause an author to lose credibility faster than having the wrong information in her writing.

Along these same lines, all quotes, references, and notes should be verified by the copy editor. If the author references in the manuscript that he retrieved his information from a particular website, that website needs to be verified with an active link so the reader can access the information.

For certain types of manuscripts, all this fact checking and reference verification can be extremely time-consuming. Works that are scientific in nature (even fiction) or fall into other niches, such as Christian works, which typically involve Scripture verification, can be especially tedious. I mention this because, if you have such a manuscript that needs to be copy edited, be ready to be charged a higher rate than if your manuscript didn’t need such verification work.

One more area that can usually be expected of a copy editor is taking a look at the overall aesthetics of the manuscript: how the headings and subheadings are treated, and making sure they are consistent in their treatment; the size and type of font used; use of bolding and italics; and so forth.

In my next post, you’ll see that many of the above areas that constitute a copy editor’s job will also be reviewed by a proofreader–but there are many differences in the two functions as well.

If you’re a writer looking for an additional source of revenue, you may want to consider proofreading or editing. This is not to say that just because you can write you can edit (or vice-versa), but if you find you have a knack for it–and enjoy it–it can be a great way to bring in some extra money while your writing business is gaining momentum, and it can provide an excellent source of industry connections.

There are essentially three categories of editing, all of which are quite different from one another. Typically if you get hired for a project by a publisher, you would be expected to do only one of these three. If you are working for an independent author or a small business, then you may do all three. The three categories are as follows:

1. Content editing–In content editing you are looking at the big picture: For nonfiction this would include overall flow and organization of materials, paragraph structure and construction (do all paragraphs stick to one thought or theme or are they scattered?), passive vs. active voice, style, clarity, etc. For fiction you’d also be checking for use and consistency of dialogue, story arc, conflict, resolution, story pacing, and character development.

Your job as a content editor is to make sure that the writing reads well overall, makes sense, and has a logical flow. Content editors will re-arrange paragraphs, cut scenes that don’t work, and add text to give the writing clarity.

2. Copy editing or line editing–While the copy editor will make note of any of the above content editing issues, the focus here is more on sentence structure, proper grammar, precise wording, and fact checking. By the time the copy editor gets the manuscript from the publisher, the “big picture” stuff should be ironed out. It’s the copy editor’s job to go through the manuscript line by line (hence the job title) and work on individual sentences and wording. Also, if there are quotes used or other references in the text, the copy editor will check those for accuracy.

3. Proofreading–This is the final stage of the editing process, and most publishers have 2-3 proofers that will read a manuscript before it heads to print. At this point, you will be looking for spelling mistakes, words used incorrectly, punctuation errors, typos, consistency with heading/subheading styles, and, at the final proof, formatting issues. If you are a detail-oriented person, proofreading can be fun. If you’re not, it’s a nightmare!

If you think you may be good at one or all of the above and want to try your hand at it, one good way to break in is to contact publishing houses and ask if they use contract or freelance proofreaders and/or editors.  In all cases, they will give you a test, which involves editing a sample manuscript according to their house style guides and other resources they use (AP style manual or Chicago Manual of Style, for instance). It’s more common for publishers to hire freelancers for proofing and copy editing than for content editing, which they will typically do in-house.

Once you get in with one publisher and prove yourself, it’s easier to walk through other doors. Often you can “work your way up” as well, starting out as a proofreader then moving to a copy editor and then a content editor. Even though the skills are unique for each, and one isn’t “better” than another, there seems to be an unwritten rule that proofreaders are the bottom rung of the ladder!

Although classes do exist for editing–usually at community colleges or through writing workshops–the best way to learn is simply by practicing. You can also learn a lot by paying close attention to what edits have been made to manuscripts that you’ve sent to publishers. I always like to compare my original work with the post-edited finished product to see what the editors changed. Not only does that help be become a better writer, but I learn about the editing process as well.

There are also many online forums and networking groups strictly for editors. These can be an excellent place to ask questions about the industry, get editing tips, and find out where the jobs are.

Don’t discount editing if you think you might be good at it. I’ve landed many writing jobs as a result of the in-house editors getting to know me first through my editing/proofing skills.