The Different Types of Editing

There are many different types of editing in the publishing world. How do you know which one will work best for you?

For most people who write things in their everyday life—memos, reports, emails, and the like—asking a colleague for a quick “proof” is easily understood by all parties. You’re asking someone else to give your piece a quick read to make sure that the punctuation and grammar are correct and that you’re not making a fool of yourself. Your colleague understands that they shouldn’t spend too much time or effort on it; just a quick readthrough will suffice.

However, when you ask an editor for a “quick proof,” they’ll stop you there and ask you to clarify. Because the reality is, there are different kinds of editing, and there is no such thing as “a quick proof.”

There’s So Much More to Editing than Fixing Punctuation

The word “editor” can be a broad term for almost anyone who works with written content. There are commissioning editors, production editors, managing editors . . . the list can go on for a while. They all have very different jobs that focus on one thing: making a written piece be the best that it can possibly be.

For the purposes of this blog post, I’m going to focus on the kind of editing I do. After all, part of the reason you’re reading this may be that you want to understand what services I offer. I provide three different kinds of editing: line editing, copyediting, and proofreading.

“But, Kate!” you exclaim. “You just said there was no such thing as a quick proof! How is it you offer proofreading services?”

That is an excellent question, Dear Reader, and I’ll get to that explanation in a moment. But, there is an order to such things, and as such we must first start with line editing.

Line Editing: Where All the Red Marks Make You Want to Cry

Line editing is not the first round of editing a manuscript might undergo; in fact, there are four other rounds of editing that might happen prior to a line editor ever starting. You can read more about those here. Line editing is one of the final rounds of changes a manuscript undergoes.

In a line edit (also sometimes called a deep edit or heavy copy edit), the editor goes through the work line by line, making suggestions to clarify your style and make sure the work makes sense. A line editor may suggest significant rewrites to portions of the text and let you know if a section is lacking in something, unclear, or needs to be rewritten.

An example of our first type of editing: a line edit. Notice there are more suggestions and alterations here.
This was a particularly deep edit; one I did on an old blog post of mine. It can look terrifying, but the end result is a tighter, more easy-to-read piece of writing.

A line-edited text can be very hard to look at; it is often covered in red marks, with words added or deleted and entire sections re-written. It can be overwhelming and frustrating, especially if you weren’t expecting such significant changes. Keep in mind, a good editor wants your story to be the best it can be. Those red marks indicate sections where a little more work needs to be done—you don’t have to use the editor’s words. See what they’ve suggested, and if you like it, accept it; if you want to re-word, that’s fine, too! After all, it’s your piece.

Copy Editing: Just When You Think You’ve Fixed Everything, This Happens

Once a writer has received a line edit and gone through and accepted all changes and made any alterations they feel necessary, it goes on to a copy edit. This is where the editor focuses on the technical aspects of writing: grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

Many copyeditors will also provide basic fact-checking services (I do) and will make additional suggestions to ensure that the tense, POV, and story remain consistent. They’ll also point out inconsistencies (Mary’s eyes are blue on page fifteen but hazel on seventy-nine). At this point, copy editors aren’t interested in cleaning up your style; they’re more focused on technical styles, like when to capitalize a word or whether or not “ten” is spelled out or can remain numerical.

A second type of edit: a copyedit. Notice there are fewer suggested changes, and the focus is on grammar.
You’ll notice there are fewer red marks in a copyedit. In this instance, I made sure everything was in agreement regarding first-person/second-person narrative. I’ll also make sure your tenses are in agreement and that everything is spelled and punctuated correctly.

Most copyeditors have a specific style guide they adhere to. The default for many (including myself) is the Chicago Manual of Style. Most publishing houses have their own style guides, as do most newspapers, journals, and magazines. If you have a particular style you are following as a writer (MLA, APA, or one for your company), always let your copyeditor know. If you are able to send them a copy—some are readily available online or as PDFs—please do so, as that means they’ll be able to provide you with the best service possible.

Proofreading: How the Curse Word Did I Miss That Typo?

Proofreading is the final installment of editing and is literally done on the book’s proofs. These days, more often than not, the editor is marking up a PDF of the book, which has been laid out for printing (usually by a book designer and usually done in InDesign).

This book by a well-known author has a typo in it. Proofreading is another type of editing that catches the last remaining errors in a book. Most of the time.
Even well-known authors published by big houses need proofreaders. And still, there’s always one sly typo that still gets through.

At this point in the editing process, a proofreader is looking only for those outlier errors that have managed to sneak past multiple other editors and multiple editing processes. The point of a proofread is not to make major changes. It is mostly meant to make sure that any final typos are caught and there are no widows, orphans, or stacks in the book’s layout.

This process is usually pretty quick and is most often done by traditional publishers (although independent publishers are always encouraged to have one last look before hitting “print!”).

How Do I Know Which One to Choose?

Choosing the right level of editing can be daunting, especially if this is your first time using a professional editor. Before reaching out to an editor, consider these questions:

  • Which draft are you on? If you’ve just finished your first draft, odds are you still have a lot of work left to do before any editing occurs. A writing coach or developmental editor will help you get your work where it needs to be.
  • Has anyone else read your work? What did they think? Did you implement their suggestions? Would you consider them your target audience? Getting feedback from someone in your audience can be key to making your manuscript shine.
  • Has it been edited? By whom? Language changes radically and quickly. If your manuscript has been edited by someone who isn’t up on the latest rules and styles, they may have done more harm than good. A professional editor will understand what needs changing and what can stay as is.

If you’re still not certain, ask! Any good editor will happily walk you through the process and give you suggestions. Many will ask for a sample of your manuscript so they can give you a better idea of the work that needs to be done. And don’t be afraid to shop around for the right editor for you. There is one out there that will be a perfect fit.

At the end of the day, the editor is there to support you in your work. My job is to make sure your manuscript is the best possible manuscript it can possibly be. I want your work to shine and will do all I can to ensure it looks like it was never put through multiple rounds of editing. Because, in the end, the best editors are the invisible warriors, out to clean up the writing world while making it look like they were never there.

If you are interested in learning about how we might work well together, I encourage you to contact me.