What kind of editor do you need?

I blew $1,500 on a copy editor to help me make Succubus the best novel I could produce, only to realize I needed a different kind of edit altogether. 

Independent authors hire professional editors

When you map out the professional process it takes to produce high-quality, long-form fiction or non-fiction, there comes a point where you need someone other than yourself to edit your work. A professional editor can catch errors, check for consistency and readability, provide direction, and highlight ares of the work that need improvement; find the grammatical and spelling errors that would distract a reader from the message of your work.

In the traditional publishing world (where you are awarded a contract business who will publish your work), that editing is a service provided by your publisher. For my two non-fiction books, my publisher provided a full-service edit when I turned in the manuscript. I received feedback and had approval over the final changes, but the task of choosing and working with the editor was my publisher's responsibility.

A typical workflow for authors working independently (where you put your work directly into publishing marketplaces like Kindle and Kobo), is to hire a freelance editor ahead of publication. For my novel Succubus, which I published to Kindle, I hired an editor directly. It worked like this: After I completed what I considered my very best draft (multiple revisions), I went online and searched for recommendations. I selected three potential editors, submitted pages for a sample edit, made my final choice, and booked into their schedule. The total cost was about $1,500 and two three weeks from time I submitted my draft.

The money I spent was an investment. I made it in the hope that it would help me write a better book. I intended to use what I learned to grow as a writer as well, to look for repeated corrections that show me what fundamental flaws I have in my writing style.

When I reviewed my edited manuscript, every page had suggestions. She caught grammatical errors, corrected some formatting issues she found, spotted duplicate words, etc. It felt like a thorough run-through. I was happy to see that she did the work. But, ultimately, I felt like I didn't get what I expected and I was disappointed.

What I didn't get (and what I really wanted) was any kind of global feedback on the story itself. What did the editor think worked about the story. What didn't work. Did she think I should add or change anything? Were the characters believable? Should I work on my dialogue? Description? Narration?

Choose the right kind of editor to move your writing forward

To edit Succubus, I had hired a copy editor. I didn't know that there were distinctly different kinds of edits I should have considered, and I had chosen the wrong one. In broad strokes, there are four different kinds of edit you could hire for book projects. Each one provides a different review of your work. Each one provides unique benefits. When you seek a partnership with an editor, it is essential to be clear on what kind of edit you're looking for.

  • Developmental edit - a broad review of your manuscript by a professional editor. Expect a developmental edit to provide feedback on your story structure, adherence to genre, include comments on tone, setting, dialog, etc. A developmental edit is intended to provide you with professional guidance on how the book is shaping up, and to give you actionable course-corrections to take into your next revision.
  • Copy edit - A more thorough review of the story than the developmental edit, a copy edit will focus on language and story flow. This kind of edit will include grammatical and other usage corrections. You might get elemental questions on your settings and dialog. You might see changes to the order of paragraphs or chapters intended to make the story stronger. You may also received notes and comments on sections to cut or that need to be fleshed out.
  • Line edit - an intense, line-by-line copy edit focused on sentence-by-sentence wording. The line edit will be the most thorough run-through of the manuscript. It will include grammar, spelling and usage corrections. A full line edit will likely not include notes on story or structure, but focus specifically on the mechanics of your writing.
  • Proofreading - even if you have revised your manuscript several times and paid for a professional edit, the last step before hitting the publish button is making dead sure there are no errors left for the reader to discover. Proofreading is the editorial step where someone clears the book of lingering typos or grammatical and  punctuation mistakes. This edit is not intended to introduce new ideas or corrections, just to read through the final, printable project and make sure it's as perfect as it can be before the rest of the world gets their hands on it.

My $1,500 investment in Succubus was not completely wasted. Even though what I needed when I hired a copy editor was a developmental edit first, I learned the valuable lesson to clearly define what kind of edit to pay for as I work on my next fiction project. I hope learning from my mistake helps you when it's time to get editorial help for your book-length project.


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