What Kind of Editing Do I Need?
You’ve written something. You’ve poured all your skill, creativity, and time into it. You’ve made sacrifices to reach the finish line, and you can now congratulate yourself on a job well done.
But what’s next?
You know that something needs to happen between the completed draft and publication. Trouble is, you aren’t quite sure what. There are so many types of editing:
- Developmental (substantive) editing
- Line editing
How are you supposed to know what services you need? In a perfect world, the answer would be, “All of the above.” In Realville, where most of us live, time and especially finances are not limitless. Worse, if you don’t understand the types of editing and what order they should go in, you can find yourself having to do a step all over again (and pay for it again, if you hired someone to do it).
Consider this analogy:
BUILDING A DOG HOUSE
- Spend hours looking up designs online and watching YouTube videos.
- Spend more buying tools than you would on a pre-made dog house.
- Build the dog house.
- Spend hours sanding the wood smooth and lovingly painting it, complete with Fido’s name above the entrance.
- Ecstatically introduce Fido to his new home, which you’ve stocked with a pile of duck jerky.
- Watch in dismay as Fido tries to shove his shoulders through the too-small opening to reach the duck jerky. Fido gives up and licks duck residue off your hands.
- Belatedly measure Fido.
- Saw through wood and paint to widen said opening.
- Swear never to DIY again.
Good editors can help your writing experience go much more smoothly than this dog house project (which bears no resemblance to any of my own DIY projects, I swear).
1. Stay Out of Trouble
Let’s get the big “P” word out of the way: PLAGIARISM. I’m not here to teach you what it is (Plagiarism.org has done a fine job of that), but I am here to caution you. Whether it’s intentional or accidental, plagiarism can have serious consequences.
If you’re a university student, you might be expelled. If you’re a professor or journalist, you might be fired. If you’re an author or musician, you might face a costly lawsuit. Check out these articles about plagiarism that made the news:
Keep in mind that all parties are innocent until proven guilty. But if you still doubt that plagiarism is big news, check out the more than 5,000 articles about it in the New York Times online. If you’re interested in a scholarly treatment of plagiarism litigation, check out this journal article from the BYU Education and Law Journal.
If you consulted any sources while writing—if you even MIGHT have been inspired by something you read, saw, or heard somewhere—then it’s a really, really good idea to double-check your work. Be sure to cite all sources and either paraphrase correctly or use quotation marks.
HIRE: Copyeditor or plagiarism detection service
2. Fix the Big Picture
Have you ever heard of “putting lipstick on a pig”? No offense to pigs, who can be perfectly sweet and intelligent, but hire a proofreader before getting a competent opinion on your manuscript’s substance and you might well be smearing Colorlicious on a muddy porker.
If you’re a student submitting an essay:
- Did you address the writing prompt?
- Do you have a strong thesis?
- Do you have compelling points supported by evidence?
If you’re a novelist:
- Is the plot original and interesting?
- Are the characters fully developed?
- Is the timeline solid and consistent?
If you’re a business person:
- Is the message clear?
- Will it appeal to your target audience?
- Does it accurately represent your product or service?
…and so on.
HIRE: Developmental editor or fact-checker (if relevant)
3. Dig into Sentences
Writing is a complex task. You probably juggled many ideas in your mind at once as you wrote, and you might have rethought and rewritten so many times that you can barely focus on the words anymore, much less judge your writing with an unjaundiced eye.
After making sure the big picture is solid, you need someone who can fix all the following and more:
- Dialogue tags
- Balance of character names vs. pronouns
- Gaps in narration, action, etc.
- Confusing/ambiguous language
- Awkward prose
- Colorless word choice
- Paragraph organization
- Unnecessary tangents
HIRE: Line editor
4. Obey the Style Guide
Style guides can be intimidating if you aren’t used to them. Depending on how you plan to publish, however, you’ll probably be required to adhere to one. Book publishers typically use the Chicago Manual of Style. Students and profs in English classes use the MLA Style Manual. Humanities courses (psychology, etc.) prefer the Publication Manual of the APA. Journalists use the AP Stylebook. There are all sorts of style guides out there, including “in-house” style guides for individual organizations.
So, what do these various guides tell you to do?
- How to abbreviate
- When to use numerals vs. spelling out a number
- How to handle ellipses
- How to cite sources properly in the text
- How to format footnotes/endnotes
- …and much more (no really—my copy of the Chicago manual has 1,144 pages)
5. Polish the Flaws
The dog house is the right size and shape, it sits firmly on the ground without rocking, and you’ve made sure all the materials are non-toxic. You can FINALLY paint it!
Now that you’ve taken care of major issues in your manuscript, you can concentrate on the finer points:
- Spacing errors
HIRE: Copyeditor or proofreader
6. Format Properly
Although style guides usually provide formatting rules, many copyeditors don’t do formatting.
For academic papers, which are relatively predictable, they might. If you’re preparing a manuscript for book printing or e-book publication, however, “formatting” involves more than a little design know-how and artistic sense. The formatter (you or someone you hire) must deal with:
- Page size
- Margins (including gutters)
- Running headers/footers
- Making sure the headers don’t appear on certain pages (front matter, first page of a chapter, etc.)
- Making sure the odd and even pages alternate properly (yes, this can be a problem!)
- Selecting typefaces that suit your subject matter and look good together
- Widows and orphans
- …and more
HIRE: Book designer
7. Perform a Final Check
Once everything is formatted the way you want it, you’ll need to make a final pass to catch remaining errors (no editor or proofreader is perfect) or problems that might have been introduced in the formatting process.
As you can imagine, this process can become quite costly as the manuscript passes through multiple hands. Some people find ways to save money by:
- Having competent friends help
- Finding a single editor who can wear all or most of these hats (subsequent steps go faster when the editor is already familiar with the manuscript)
Others, however, decide that they are willing to invest in the project to make it the best it can be. They find one or more editors they can trust, request a quote, and then save up the money.
Utopian Editing provides editing services from concept through proofreading.