When writers determine they need an editor, they still may not know what they need an editor to do exactly. Let me try to clear up some of the confusion about the various types of edits–substantive, language, copy/line and proofing:
What’s Involved in a Substantive Edit?
A substantive edit (also called a developmental or structural edit) takes into account the project as a whole—its purpose, organization, audience, tone and message. In this type of edit, a good editor will work with you (the writer) to do the following:
- Hone your message—Establish your goal for the project, if you will.
- Identify your audience—Determine who (exactly) you’re writing for.
- Develop your manuscript. In fiction, that’s the story or narrative. In non-fiction, that’s the outline and chapters.
- Rework as needed—Organize, rearrange and restructure content, fill in the blanks, eliminate repetition.
Ultimate goal: Help the author produce clear, articulate language that speaks to his/her audience.
Questions we’ll answer:
- Does the manuscript all adhere to a concise message? Does it stay on topic?
- Is there a logical order to the information presented?
- Do the extras (table of contents, headings and subheadings, quotes, appendices, indexes) further the exact message of the manuscript? Are they on point? Are they useful to the target audience?
What’s Involved in a Language Edit?
A language edit focuses on how and why an author expresses ideas, and it covers:
- Verb use (Encouraging active verbs and eliminating passive verbs)
- Complexity of sentence structure
- Development of ideas (Are they logical? Are they concise? Are they clear?)
- Suitable for target market (Does the language used fit/relate to the intended audience?)
What’s Involved in a Copy Edit (also called a line edit)?
A copy edit focuses on grammar, usage, style, punctuation and spelling and fixes mistakes, including awkward phrasing. The copy editor ensures accuracy and uniformity throughout your project, including formatting. A copy editor will:
- Correct spelling
- Correct punctuation
- Correct grammar
- Correct word choice (terminology)
- Correct wording (semantics)
- Ensure the text adheres to the stylebooks (specifically, the Chicago Manual of Style)
- Standardize headings
- Standardize spacing
- Standardize quote formatting
- Standardize bold and italics (if applicable)
Because I’ve been at this for so long, I typically do all three edits (substantive, language and copy) all at once. This method saves you time and money in the long run. Plus, you learn as you go along and apply what you learn to subsequent projects.
What’s Involved in a Proofing Edit (also called proofreading)?
A proofing edit is the last step before a book gets published (printed). After a publisher (or self-publishing author) designs the manuscript, they submit a proof to the proofreader who gives everything a final once-over. A great proofreader will catch (and correct) typos, mechanical errors, formatting mistakes and any other issues the copy editor may have missed.
Note: I don’t usually do this type of edit, but I can, if you’d like me to.