Over and over I see people agonizing over word choices and commas before their story is figured out. Or beta readers marking copy edit style edits when the author doesn’t yet know if their story works–or if the scene the reader is editing will even make the final cut of the novel.
This is why it’s important for an author to know what to ask of their editors, beta-readers, and what to expect at a traditional publishing house. You will lose both time and money if you’re asking someone (or yourself) to copy edit a chapter before you’ve figured out your story. You’ll have a hard time finding a good editor match if you’re not communicating what you need. And finally, it’s important to know what a publishing house should do for you if that’s the route you choose.
Developmental/Story/Big Picture Edits
A Developmental Edit asks the following:
Does the story work?
We focus on:
Protagonist – is this your POV? Is it not? Do we understand the protagonist’s motivation as the story progresses? Do we see growth?
Point of View: Have you chosen correctly for your story?
Plot/Pinch Points and Pacing: Does the story make sense and have good flow?
Tension/Stakes: Are the stakes clear?
Characterization, Setting, Overall Story Arc, and Tone – were the promises made in the beginning, kept in the end?
Until you know that you have a solid handle on the above, there is no point in moving on to line edits.
A Line Edit asks the following:
Does the language support the story?
We focus on:
Seeking and destroying weak language
Showing and telling (which is allowing the reader to experience, rather than telling them about the experience)
Helping integrate action, internal thoughts, and setting in a way that meshes with the story arc, character, and plot
And until your language feels strong, there’s no point in moving on to Copy Edits.
Copy Edits ask the question:
Does the grammar support the language?
This is where grammar nerds get giddy 🙂
We focus on:
All the little things that are missed/skipped over in line edits:
Commas, capitalizations, consistency in the way numbers and time are written on the page, as well as making sure the proper version of particular words are used (words your spellcheck won’t flag because they’re spelled correctly, but aren’t the right version of the word = ate, eight).
Timelines are often finalized in this round. This round really does focus on the joy of grammar nerdery and making sure all the little details are uniform.
A Note on Proofreading: If you’re publishing on your own, or submitting to agents, consider putting your novel on paper or on your e-reader to help you find the small details. And keep in mind that publishers used to have a book proofread by 10-12 people before printing the final version.
AND FINALLY: Always note that the best a human can do is 95% accuracy. Be kind to yourself. Be kind to your readers. Be kind to your editors. We will ALL miss something in your manuscript.
As you move forward with your writing, I hope this helps you set some specific goals, as well as helping you save time by not doing line or copy edits while you’re still figuring out how to best tell your story. And if you’re not sure what your story needs – this is why SO many editors out there will offer a free edit sample and advice as to how best move forward with your manuscript. Take advantage of that!
Happy Writing! Jo