Do You Really Need Manuscript Editing?
After countless hours of writing and agonizing, you’ve finally typed “The End” on your masterpiece. You’re proud of your manuscript, and you should be. You’ve accomplished something most writers only ever dream of. You then run your manuscript through a grammar and spell-check program, get rid of all those annoying squiggly red and green lines, and now you’re ready to query or publish to the retailer of your choice. But are you?
Even if you’ve read and re-read that manuscript a dozen times, shared it with your critique group, and had your Aunt Betty with the eye for grammar read it, chances are, it still needs some editing.
Trust Me On This One
This is up there with the top five pieces of advice I hear successful writers give and see aspiring indie writers ignore: get professional editing. Well-edited manuscripts are the mark of a writer intent on becoming a successful author.
Writers taking the traditional route to publishing will have their manuscripts edited by their publishers if their book makes it out of the slush pile. For these writers, a well-edited first few chapters may make the difference between a request for a full manuscript or being stopped in their tracks.
Types Of Editing
Google “types of editing” and you’ll get dozens of responses with almost as many variations in definitions. There’s even disagreement about the correct spelling of copyediting. Is it copyediting or copy editing? I’m team copyediting-is-one-word, so that’s how I’ll refer to it here. Here’s a summary of the various types of manuscript editing.
A manuscript assessment is a broad, top-level look at your manuscript to help identify overarching structural issues and determine its readability. The assessment typically:
• provides the author with recommendations for improvement at the plot and story level
• checks for the presence of the goal-motivation-conflict dynamic
• identifies common big picture issues with pacing, conflict, voice, and character POV
• may involve flagging recurring grammar and word-choice errors
• may or may not include document markups
After a manuscript assessment, the author receives a 3 to 5-page summary report. The author incorprates suggestions into their manuscript.
Substantive editing identifies and improves upon key structural elements of a manuscript. A substantive edit:
• pays special attention to adherence to the three-act structure
• involves rewriting, rephrasing, and reorganizing the manuscript at the chapter, scene, and paragraph level
• addresses and corrects common story issues such as head hopping, pacing, conflict, and inconsistencies
• includes document markups and rewrites
• prepares the manuscript for the final revision process
After a substantive edit, the author will receive a marked-up manuscript along with a detailed 10-page report. The edit may include some rewrites, but the author makes the majority of the rewrites.
Style edits, sometimes called line edits, are undertaken by editors with an eye for rhythm and flow. Style manuscript editing focuses on correcting issues at the paragraph and sentence level and should be done on a manuscript that already has a strong plot, story, and structure. A style edit improves a manuscript’s overall clarity and:
• identifies, corrects, and makes recommendations for addressing issues at the paragraph and sentence level
• identifies awkward phrasing and improves word choice
• improves dialogue
• highlights overused words and phrases and suggests alternatives
• helps the writer tweak “show don’t tell”
• does not involve restructuring the manuscript or plot
Style edits should be done after the writer has a cohesive plot and story, but before she enters the copyediting and proofreading stages of her work. After a style edit, the author may receive a document with significant markups, comments, insertions, and deletions. The editor may make a large number of edits, but the author may be responsible for some editing and rewriting based on the editor’s suggestions and recommendations. A 3 to 4-page cover letter and style sheet are included with this edit.
Copyediting has become somewhat of a catch-all term for all editing. But copyediting typically addresses grammar and usage issues, spelling and punctuation errors, and word choice. Copywriting addresses a manuscript’s correctness. Why is the character named Joseph in chapter one suddenly being called John in chapter eight? Why does Lara have brown eyes in the prologue, but blue eyes in the final scene? Copyediting is less focused on rhythm and flow and more focused on ensuring accuracy. It:
• involves making corrections at the sentence level
• checks for consistency issues with timelines, plot, and character
• addresses adherence to the Chicago Manual of Style and the author’s “house” style
• may result in significant document markups
• prepares the manuscript for proofreading and/or publication
After copyediting, the author receives a document with significant markups. The author is responsible for either accepting or rejecting the editor’s changes and recommendations.
The final phase of the manuscript editing process is about double-checking the manuscript, not assessing or improving style or subject matter. Proofreading involves changes at the word-level, not at the sentence or paragraph level. Proofreaders check for typos, spelling, and layout issues. They also should verify links in electronic documents and perform document cleanups that standardize the manuscript’s format. Proofreaders:
• double check, they don’t assess or improve on story or plot
• find and fix grammar, spelling errors, layout, and format issues
• make their changes at the word level, not at the sentence, paragraph, or chapter level
While a proofreader checks for correctness, the author should always conduct their own final readthrough of a manuscript before submitting or publishing.
Choosing the Right Editor
Many writers won’t need all of the editing services listed above, so it’s important to understand your story and to receive enough feedback from beta readers and critique groups to determine the scope of editing you’ll require.
There are some editors who provide all of these services for writers. Others, like myself, specialize in certain areas. Do your research when choosing an editor, making sure that the editor you choose understands the various types of editing (no matter what name they use for it) and is skilled in the type(s) you’ll need. Most editors will provide a sample edit prior to quoting a rate or taking you on as a client. Take advantage of this offer to determine whether or not you and the editor will be a good fit.
How Much Does Editing Cost?
Manuscript editing rates can vary as much as their definitions. Depending on the type and complexity of the edit, some editors charge anywhere from .008 to .08 cents per word. Other editors charge by the page, with rates ranging from $2 to over $7 per page. Still, others charge hourly rates ranging from $20 to over $60 per hour.
The Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) has a handy rate chart that provides an overview of average hourly rates. Click or tap here to visit the EFA website.