Thursday, October 25, 2012

Understanding and Choosing the Type of Editing that Works for You

Today I’d like to discuss different types of editing services and choosing the right one for you. Numerous writers have approached me, interested in receiving professional editing for their books, but when I'd ask what type of editing they were interested in, they were confounded. So, I figured it was time for a post that defined and distinguished a few common types of editing.

This post aims to inform writers about the different editing options available to them. I will define the major editing types; I will discuss who should utilize each type of editing service; and lastly I will explain my own thoughts on which of these services is most vital to writers.

What is Copyediting?
Copyediting, also known ironically (and aptly) as “copy editing,” is the most basic and well known of the professional editing services. Copyediting focuses on aligning texts with the best and most proper use of the English language. Among other things, copyeditors focus on formatting, spelling, grammar, punctuation, and flow.

What is the Value of Copyediting?
Copyediting polishes your words. This type of editing is valuable for writers who are satisfied with the substance of their books and want to clean up the language. Copyediting is especially valuable for writers interested in self-publishing and writers who are nonnative English speakers.

What are the limitations of Copyediting?
Unlike content/substantive editing and developmental editing, copyediting does not edit the meat of the text. This is significant because most of the writing I receive contains significant content errors.

Content Editing/Substantive Editing
What is Content Editing/Substantive Editing?
This type of editing focuses on identifying and fixing any errors in the material your book discusses. Unlike copyediting, content editing looks at the deeper issues present in a given text. For instance, are there too many characters? Does the story start out too slow? Did the character contradict his or herself? Are there holes in the story’s logic? I can go on and on.

When to Use Content Editing
The truth is that most writers need content edits to some extent. As writers, the story is all in our head, and it makes perfect sense. However, there are two things I’ve learned as an editor. The first is that we can easily see problems in other writers’ work, but we are blind to our own weaknesses as writers. It might reassure writers to know that even though I’m an editor, I cannot see my own flaws as a writer. No one is a perfect writer from day one.

The second piece of knowledge I’ve gleaned as an editor is that writers are their own best critic. If you are working on a book, how do you feel about it? I bet you love what your writing about, even if you aren’t yet satisfied with the language. And all those horror stories you hear—about how hard it is to get published? They happen to other people. Not you.

Wrong. You are your own biggest fan; you believe you have something truly spectacular that will revolutionize the literary world; you might even become a bestseller. All writers have this daydream at some point, and it is your job to believe in and advocate your book. However, while you are lauding your work, others might actually be cringing—and I’m not over exaggerating.

I’ve had numerous writers send me their work looking for a pat on the back, and most are disappointed—some even offended—when they receive the slew of edits I give. To them it appears I ripped their books apart. In reality I gave them content edits.

Why Does American Editing Services Call it “Content Editing” and Not “Substantive Editing”?
As an editor, I work with writers of all levels. Some are more informed than others, but, like I mentioned earlier, the vast majority of writers who contact me are unaware or unclear about the distinction between these different types of editing services. This is not something that any writer should be embarrassed about. I’ll be the first to say that I loathe terminology that creates in-groups and out-groups.

So, “content editing,” as opposed to “substantive editing,” made much more sense to me since writers could infer that this type of editing dealt with a book’s content. And yes, one could infer the same from the name “substantive editing,” but there was linguistically a smaller logical jump with the word “content.” Sorry for digressing on to such a dry topic—I almost fell asleep there for a second too.

Developmental Editing
What is Developmental Editing?
Developmental editing is exactly what it sounds like, editing and collaborating with the writer before and while the book is being written and edited. This type of editing is foundational, and major structural changes can occur with this type of editing.

Developmental Editing is does not include copyediting. It is not the editor’s responsibility to make sure the grammar and language is correct. This service instead focuses on making sure the message is conveyed correctly.

As you might have noticed, it sounds quite similar to content/substantive editing, so why are these editing services broken up? The fundamental distinction between the two is what phase of the book the writer is working on when they approach an editor. Some sources do actually group this editing style with content and substantive editing, so when researching a particular editor, make sure to read their definitions of their services.

When to Use Developmental Editing?
Developmental editing is mostly for writers who are at the beginning stages of a writing project. I’d suggest this type of editing for individuals who need professional assistance while they are laying out the book.

Other Types of Editing
There are several additional types of editing that I did not discuss in this post.  A few examples are line editing, proofreading, technical editing, and medical editing. These other types of editing fall outside my field of knowledge, so I am not your best resource if interested.

Which Type of Editing is the Most Useful?
Here’s the deal. If Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code hadn’t been copyedited, a reader still would have recognized it as a bestseller. Think of copyediting as a new paint job for a car. No matter what’s on the surface, a Ferrari is still a Ferrari. Now take the example of an unpublished writer with a questionable novel. Polishing the novel’s language might not make it more publishable. Just like a new paint job won’t change your busted up Fiat into a Ferrari. Content editing actually makes a book more publishable while copyediting simply makes it more presentable. If you’ve got a Ferrari that needs a paint job, then get copyediting; if, on the other hand, you’ve got a busted up Fiat, then get content editing, and we’ll make it drive a little faster.

Happy writing,

Laura Carlson, Editor
American Editing Services

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