Types of Manuscript Editing
Does Your Manuscript Really Need 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 reread that manuscript a dozen times and had your Aunt Betty with the eye for grammar read it, your manuscript may still need editing. This is especially true if this is your first attempt at writing a book-length work, you need a big-picture assessment of your story, you don’t have a critique group, or you’re self-publishing. Well-crafted stories and clean manuscripts are the marks of a professional 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 an out-and-out rejection.
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 an explanation of the various types of manuscript editing services I provide.
A manuscript assessment is a broad, top-level look at your manuscript to help identify overarching structural issues and help determine its readability. It is a highly recommended first step, particularly for first-time authors and those who have never had anyone read their manuscript in its entirety. An assessment will help identify your book’s strengths and weaknesses and typically:
• involves a complete manuscript readthrough
• includes recommendations on story, structure, and style
• checks for goal-motivation-conflict dynamic
• identifies common big picture issues with pacing, voice, and character POV (Point of View)
• may involve flagging grammar and word-choice errors
• includes a detailed editorial report addressing key developmental areas
After the assessment is returned to the author, they incorporate the editor’s suggestions into their manuscript.
Typical turnaround time: 2-3 weeks
Substantive editing identifies and improves upon key structural elements of a manuscript. Unlike an assessment, which does not involve heavy document markups or editing, a substantive edit may involve significant markups and deep restructuring of story elements. Substantive editing:
• pays special attention to adherence to story structure and character development
• 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 plot inconsistencies
• prepares the manuscript for the final revision process
• includes 120 minutes of consult time
After a substantive edit, the author receives a marked-up manuscript along with a detailed editorial report. The edit may include rewrites, but the author makes the majority of the rewrites.
Typical turnaround time: 4-6 weeks
Style edits, sometimes called line edits, are undertaken by editors with an eye for cadence. 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 and corrects awkward phrasing
• 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 they enter 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 should expect to make additional edits and rewrites based on the editor’s suggestions and recommendations. An editorial letter is included with this edit.
Typical turnaround time: 2-4 weeks
Copyediting (light to medium)
Copyediting has become somewhat of a catch-all term for all editing. But copyediting typically only 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 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 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.
Typical turnaround time: 2-3 weeks
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 corrections 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.
Typical turnaround time: 1-2 weeks
Choosing the Right Editor
Many 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. Do your research when choosing an editor. Make sure the editor you choose understands the various types of editing (no matter what names they use for it) and is skilled in the type(s) you’ll need. Ask for references and read their testimonial page. Ask what style guide and dictionary they use. 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 $10 per page. Still, others charge hourly rates ranging from $20 to over $70 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. I’ve set my rates to be competitive and to reflect my years of experience and training, my commitment to excellence, and my desire to help writers at all stages of their writing careers.