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.

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Because over 50% of my business involves some sort of editing, I often get emails out of the blue asking for editing help. These inquiries typically look something like this:

“Hello, I have a manuscript I’ve just completed, and I need someone to look it over before I send it to a publisher. How much do you charge for editing?”

In response, I have to answer…

“It depends on what kind of editing you need.”

The reply back is normally…

“Well, I don’t know. I just need it to look good.”

Hmmm…

It’s very difficult for me to offer a quote with this information. There are many kinds of editing, each having a specific goal, and usually, a different price tag. In Part 1 of this Editing Series, I will present an overview of 3 major types of editing. To be technically correct, these 3 types are broken into even smaller subsections, but I’ve found from a practical standpoint of actually doing the work involved with each of these 3 types, I always include the corresponding subsections in my editing as well.

From broadest to most specific, these 3 areas of editing are:

1. Substantive Editing (I sometimes refer to this as Content Editing when speaking to clients because it better describes the type of editing it is.):

This is the first phase of editing, typically done after the final version of the rough draft is completed. In this phase, an editor will focus on overall organization, presentation, and clarity of the manuscript. This will look very different for fiction vs. nonfiction works. I’ll talk more about the specific elements of each in my next post, but as an overview, some things an editor will look for in this phase include: the flow and transition of paragraphs and thought, consistencies in characters’ dialects, character development, point of view shifts, organization of chapters, use of techniques such as flashbacks, and other such big-picture ideas.

2. Copyediting or Line Editing (Some people call this Manuscript Editing, but to me that’s a pretty vague term and makes this process even more confusing!):

This editing phase will occur after the author has reworked his manuscript based on the editor’s changes and suggestions from the substantive edit. At this point, the manuscript is in its final form from the author’s standpoint. In this phase, the editor will scrutinize the manuscript line by line, searching for things such as: style consistency (including adherence to a house style if necessary), use of redundancies or repetitive words, accuracy of reference notes and tables, proper punctuation, sentence structure, proper grammar, and spelling. The main goal with a copyedit is clarity. It is the editor’s job to make the manuscript as clear and readable as possible, without usurping the author’s voice and style.

3. Proofreading (Technically, this is not really editing, but it is part of the editing process–or should be–for every manuscript.):

Proofreading is the final stage of the editing process and is often done more than once. At publishing houses, manuscripts are normally proofread three times, each time by a different person. Proofreading normally takes place immediately before and then after a manuscript has been formatted for publication. Proofing is the nitty-gritty phase of editing, where editors (some editors don’t do proofreading but will pass the manuscript onto those who specialize in proofing) focus on all the details of the manuscript. Some of these details include: typos, misspellings, punctuation, errors in reference notes, proper pagination, errors in headings/footers, and overall formatting and visual issues.

In my next post, I’ll begin looking at each of these areas in more detail and include tips for self-editing at each stage as well as suggestions on how to find professional help when you need it.