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How to Edit Like a Pro (or Know When to Hire One)

Editing can be one of the most daunting aspects of writing, and it can be a double-edged sword for many authors. Determining who should do the editing adds another layer to that challenge. While giving your manuscript to a professional editor will surely offer improvements, you risk of seeing your painstaking work crossed out, red-lined, and changed. Ouch!

However, if you opt to save some money and go it alone,  or ask a friend or colleague to do a review, the end result could be a less professional product.  This doesn’t mean that you can’t edit. It simply means that you’ve likely read your work countless times and cannot have an objective view or an eagle eye. This could leave you vulnerable to missing small grammatical errors as well as major plot holes or inconsistencies. Trust me, I’ve seen it.

So, how do you approach the editing challenge? The first step is gaining an understanding of the different types of editing, and how they each play an important role in finalizing and polishing your manuscript. After reading this, you may feel confident that you can take on all editing duties, or you may decide you want to hire an editor do to it all, or you may opt to do some aspects yourself and hire and editor for the rest. There is no right or wrong way to approach it. The most important thing is that your manuscript has a comprehensive review before you send it out into the world.

The Main Types of Editing

Copy-editing: Not to be confused with line editing, copyediting puts the polished, finishing touch on a work. It’s generally focused on fixing spelling, grammatical, and punctuation errors. When hiring a copyeditor, you can expect this and only this. A copyeditor will not make structural or stylistic improvements or suggestions. This is usually the least expensive type of editing you can hire out. If you ONLY hire a copyeditor, you should plan for it to be after your manuscript has already undergone developmental and line editing (by you or a trusted colleague/friend). Sometimes copy-editing can also check to ensure consistency in your writing style, whether it is Chicago Manual of Style or Associated Press (AP) style. Since each of these is vastly different, it is important to make sure you pick one style and stick with it through your entire manuscript.

Line Editing: Line editing is exactly what it sounds like. Falling somewhere between copyediting and developmental editing, line editing analyzes each sentence, line by line, looking for ways to make improvements. This can be something as simple as replacing one word with another that is more powerful or appropriate, or it can focus on restructuring an entire sentence. Line editing trims and tightens, thus improving your prose. Line editing helps give a book more pizzazz. It aims to help you say what you want say – but only better. If you hire a professional editor for line editing, you’ll likely end up with a tighter product (and possibly receive the benefit of incidental copy-editing as your sentences and words are analyzed so closely).

Developmental Editing: This is the big kahuna of editing. Developmental editing takes a step back to look at the book as a whole. Developmental editing is good to do early on in the editing process, and when doing this kind of editing, you or a paid editor should look at:

  • How the book is organized – Does it flow in a logical, easy-to-read way? Is everything chronologically accurate?
  • The pace – Is the pace consistent or are there areas where it is much slower than others?
  • Chapters – Are they the right length and in the right order? Are there enough chapters? Too many?
  • Narration – Do you always use the appropriate tense? Are you consistent with your point(s) of view and dialogue?
  • Characters – Are they likable? Are their behaviors, dialects, physical appearances consistent throughout the book?
  • Setting – Do all details in relation to the book’s setting make sense?
  • Plot – Are there any major plot holes? Are there any areas that are weaker than others and need more attention?

These are just a few examples of developmental editing, which is the most time-intensive type of editing. It is also a crucial step in your editing process if you want to ensure you have a story that is consistent, readable, and enjoyable.

As you see, the different types of editing offer their own benefits and no one type is more important than the other. And all three are necessary. When breaking it down into categories, you may find it more doable tackle the process in three phases, thus requiring at least three distinct review processes. Or, you may realize you are not great at finding simple typos and grammatical errors, so you better hire a copy-editor. If you do decide to hire an editor, make sure you have a clear conversation about the type(s) of editing you need, so you will get what you pay for.

While editing may not be the most enjoyable part of the writing process, it is crucial. And, whether you do it yourself, enlist a trusted friend or colleague, or hire a professional, at least ensure that you take the time to do it the right way. It will make all the difference when it comes to Amazon reviews, professional reviews, and book sales.

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