Whether you’re preparing to submit your manuscript to agents and editors or finalize it for self-publishing, there are several distinct types of editing and it’s important to understand the difference. The four main types are developmental editing, line editing, copy editing, and proofreading. So what the heck is the difference?
Developmental (also called substantive) editing is about the big picture. This is where you’ll want to start if you’re new to editing or in the early stages of cleaning up your finished novel; that way you won’t waste time fine-tuning sections that may not make it into the final draft. Developmental editing can help you fix things like these:
- holes in your plot
- story threads that dead-end
- main characters that fail to captivate
- secondary characters that should be scrapped or given a larger role
- decisions about voice (first-person vs. third, close vs. omniscient, etc.)
- order of the scenes
- flow of action and pacing
- and many others
Line editing focuses on the sentence or paragraph level, rather than the broad story-scope of your novel. It’s about refining sentence structure and flow to make your writing both more readable and more pleasurable to read. Line editing can fix wordiness, awkward sentence structures, and other issues that make your writing feel “unpolished.” Line editing is what helps you go from the first sentence to the second one below:
–Hands trembling, she stared at her sister’s number at the top of the call list on the screen, and after hesitating another moment, sent the call through.
–Hands trembling, she stared at her sister’s number for a moment, then sent the call through.
Copy editing is about grammar, punctuation, and proper word usage. It’s the kind of editing you’d pull out your Chicago Manual of Style to do. Here are the types of questions you might ask yourself when doing a copy edit:
- should I use “which” or “that”?
- did I use punctuation correctly in the dialogue?
- should that be a comma or a semicolon?
- and a zillion others
Note that in the publishing world, the terms line editing and copy editing are sometimes used interchangeably, as they are closely related and often done by the same person or as a single step in the editing process. Some line editing may also be done during a developmental edit. So if you hire an editor, be sure you’re clear on what services he or she is offering.
Proofreading is the final step in the editing process and results in the final don’t-touch-it-again draft. This is where you catch spelling mistakes, typos, missing words, isolated punctuation errors, and the like. It’s the step that requires the most attention to detail, so if you’re doing it on your own work, it’s often essential to set the manuscript aside for a period of time so you can approach it with fresh eyes. Another helpful trick is to read your work aloud at a slow, measured pace.
For many writers, line editing, copy editing, and proofreading fall under a single umbrella called “being anal.” : ) If this is your stance, you might want to consider hiring a professional. Agents, publishers, and the reading public want a flawless product. So if you’d rather leave the nit-picking to those who enjoy it, no problem! But in the long run, you’ll be glad you didn’t cut any corners.
In upcoming articles, I’ll talk about some of the common issues writers need to address in their developmental and line/copy edits. Stay tuned!