The Many Faces of Editing

The Many Faces of Editing

Authors seeking an editor can find themselves in a world of possibilities to bring magic to their manuscripts. The difficulty lies in knowing what type of editing is needed when and for what manuscript. It’s important to clarify the type of editing you require and communicate that with your editor. Editors will often ask questions to clarify and assess manuscripts to determine the type and depth of editing required. Below I’ve listed the stages of a manuscript and the types of editing appropriate at each stage.


Pre-Drafting of a Manuscript or Preparing a Query

That’s right. Before you actually have a manuscript, you can involve an editor. You’ve got an idea, you’ve got an outline or multiple outlines, you might have a few scenes drafted out.

You Could Benefit From:

Developmental/Project Editing. A Developmental Editor works with you kind of like a project manager or mentor/coach. They coordinate, set schedules, review and offer constructive feedback, and guide you as you’re writing the first draft. This can be informally through one-on-one discussions, or formally through an established project schedule. You’ll receive mentorship on areas you get stuck on, plot structure and character construction issues, genre and audience, marketability, and more. They can nip common and major problems in the bud before they make to a full draft. They can also offer feedback on your ideas and proposals for queries you’re sending to publishing agents and publishers. This is the type of editing I specialize in and get the most satisfaction from because you get to immerse yourself along with the author in their creative brainstorming. Starting early has huge benefits and can cut down on the number of revisions and rewrites.


First Draft, Un-edited Work

You’ve written out your first draft, or decided to stop writing at a certain point. You are seeking assistance to guide your focus and story early on, but haven’t read through and revised or edited the manuscript yourself.

You Could Benefit From:

Developmental/Project Editing. It’s a little different than at the pre-drafting stage and requires a full editorial read through where the editor highlights major issues and common grammar, punctuation, syntax issues to be aware of when revising/rewriting future drafts. I work with a number of discovery writers and find this is the most effective method of editing as you get to assess the writer’s goals, intentions, skills, and focus more thoroughly within the manuscript itself, then consult with or coach a writer through the next revision. The results are more clearly observable between drafts.

Alpha Reading. Alpha Readers assist writers by offering a reader’s perspective for a manuscript after an initial draft. The manuscript often has not been edited. It’s not uncommon for an Alpha to read before the author edits the first draft. For more information on Alpha and Beta Readers check out my blog post Alpha-Beta You’re Confused about Readers.


First Draft, Author Edited

You’ve written out a complete draft of a manuscript. The story is on the pages. You’ve read through and revised your first draft and are ready to continue. You think you might need a professional editor’s help.

You Could Benefit From:

Line-by-Line Editing. This is ‘in the weeds’ editing. Editors look at a manuscript with a magnifying class and seek to clarify meaning or intent, eliminating unclear language or abbreviations, polish diction (word choice). They may or may not consider mechanics (grammar, punctuation, syntax, spelling). It is sometimes used to refer to the same level of editing as Copy Editing as well.

Copy Editing. This is what people traditionally view as editing. Copy editors focus on clarifying or reorganizing a manuscript into a cohesive story. They check for classic editorial issues within the mechanics: grammar, usage, spelling, punctuation, and style. They’ll pay attention to internal consistency or that your characters act within their characterization/personalities, the story structure/plot doesn’t contradict or have major gaps, and they may identify areas that require more research or appear to be factually incorrect, although those are more commonly done in Developmental or Fact-checking editing types. For non-fiction the copy editor may insert title font styles and place holders for art: edit tables, figures, and lists. Additional services may include: addressing consistency of mechanics like if you’re using a Canadian, United States, United Kingdom, or Australian dictionary they’ll align your spelling accordingly.

When you had off your manuscript to a traditional publishing house, you do have access, usually, to a copy editor. Unfortunately, that editor may be strapped for time or be asked by the publishing house to focus on certain things. It’s important to have an editor that works for you, the author, to review a work before it gets to the publishing house. Your manuscript should be as polished as possible to ensure it gets the care and attention it deserves.

Fact/Citation/Reference Checking. You can hire an editor to ensure the accuracy of your manuscript’s content and quotes. You should provide your reference to materials originally sourced when you did your research for the manuscript. This is more common in non-fiction, business, and academic writing fields, but fiction is often informed by factual references. In my opinion, fiction that incorporates fact lends a more immersive and credible experience for readers.


Second or Subsequent Drafts

You’ve gone through a first draft and edit of the manuscript. You’ve revised, rewritten, and you’re ready to publish, right? Not so fast. It’s good to have at least two editorial read throughs. I use 3-4 for each manuscript and 2-3 additional self-read throughs.

You Could Benefit From:

Copy Editing. That’s right. Running this draft by your editor, or another editor, again is a good idea. Staring at a manuscript for hours on end can lend to mistakes missed, no matter how good the editor or author.

Beta Reading. Betas look at a book for appeal to your audience, they catch plot holes, characterization issues, and focus on reader experience including why they loved sections or were thrown out of the book by something. Secondary elements a Beta may catch include grammar, punctuation, spelling issues, and other mechanics which may or may not have affected their reading experience. Betas and Alphas can be paid, unpaid, professional or friends or family. I believe that anyone contributing time and focus to your manuscript’s success should be acknowledged and compensated. A mixed team of Betas and Alphas from both professional/paid and unprofessional/friends/family/unpaid will be the most beneficial. I use 5-15. More than that at one time is too difficult to coordinate and revise from. Having Beta’s interested in your genre or in your target audience is a huge asset.

Also, make sure you ask focused questions about your manuscript to your Betas. Anything flagged by one third or more of your readers should probably be addressed.



So you’ve arrived. Your manuscript is entered into the system, formatted, and ready to print into beautiful books or display as eBooks for potential readers. You don’t need an editor anymore. Right? Not so much…

You Could Benefit From:

Proof Reading. This is often confused with a last edit before it goes to the printer (that would be a copy edit). What proofreading really is: reviewing proofs or sample books or documents which have been formatted and thoroughly edited. Proof readers check for design, appearance, page formatting, and for minor, mechanical errors in copy like spelling or small deviations from style sheets or manuals. In case you were wondering, fiction manuscripts are often edited based on the Chicago Style Manual. Non-Fiction and Academic depend on where it’s being published and subject matter. There are dozens of style guides and requirements. You may wish to clarify the specific requirements or style guides with your editor at the second/subsequent draft stage.


Other Things to Note about Editing Services:

Follow ups, editorial reports, page and reference formatting, rewriting, editing other elements (graphs, arts, tables), checking indexes, or consulting the author before making edits to a copy may or may not be included in your editing services.


You Should Also Clarify:

  • Rights of ownership over materials and derivative works resulting from edits (copyrights)
  • Editorial credit (whether or whether not the editor will be listed within the final product and book descriptions/meta data as contributing to the work)
  • Termination terms
  • Which jurisdiction’s laws will be applied (province, country)
  • Payment terms and amounts
  • Whether edits are made as suggestions or within the manuscript
  • Whether edits will occur in a specific format or hard copy and who pays for hard copy and delivery
  • Whether subcontractors or third parties are used by your editor or not


How Do I Get an Editor on My Team?

Finding an editor is finding a contractor for a job.  You may wish to sample their work or interview them. Check resume/curriculum vitaes, references, client lists, associations, education. Editors don’t have to have degrees or memberships in associations, but they can be an asset. Editorial associations in your country, writer guilds,, internet searches, or referrals from other authors are all great places to find an editor. It’s always good to have backup editors in case your go-to editor is unavailable or booked, or you require an additional set of eyes on a tricky manuscript.

Want to know more or want Catherine on your team (she’s an editor/coach/Alpha/Beta Reader too!)? Contact her.

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