Sometimes you finish writing your short story or novel and you start celebrating, only to realize that the job is just half-done.
I think congratulations are in order because… well… you have finished writing your draft. But there’s more work waiting for you, another stage—the editing stage.
Any piece of work—before editing and proofreading—needs some smoothing and revising and that’s why the editing stage is so important.
Not only is it a vital stage, but it’s also a painstaking task because you have to scan every word, phrase, sentence, paragraph, page, chapter, etc. during this stage, but you also have to make sure that your piece is in the best shape that it can be.
If you landed on this page, it means you’ve written or are about to write an article or story and you’re in search of some sort of guidance on how to go about editing it.
You’ve come to the right place, let’s get started!
Never Skip the Editing Stage
If you’re going to get your piece published, you can jump from the writing stage straight to publishing. In the writing profession, quality is the most important thing; if you consistently put out high-quality content.
Apart from helping you improve the quality of your piece, editing also makes your writing adhere to the style guides of your target publishing routes. If your publisher prefers a style guide like The AP Stylebook or The Chicago Manual of Style then you can ensure that your writing follows the appropriate guide during editing.
You can edit your own work if you think you’re up to it or can’t afford a professional editor. If you are contracted to a publishing house, they’ll sort that out for you—they have professional editors.
5 Types of Editing
For new writers, the many terms used to describe different types of editing can be confusing. And, you meet some authors who are not quite sure about what they’re talking about and use these terms interchangeably.
God forbid I were one of those misguided writers because you’d end up leaving this post a misguided writer yourself. But… I’m pretty sure I know what I’m talking about and by the time you finish reading this post, you also have a good idea of what these types of editing are.
Here are the terms and their meanings:
1. Developmental Editing
Developmental editing involves looking at the overall organization and strength of your draft. What a developmental editor does is read through your entire piece and suggest changes that your entire short story, article, or book needs.
If your piece under scrutiny is a fiction piece, the editor evaluates your story’s themes, plot points, tension, and other important things.
So if you are a developmental editor, your job is to scan the manuscript for plot holes, determine whether the tension in the story is good enough to make it exciting, or whether a character or a set of characters are boring.
If you are a new writer and you give your manuscript to a developmental editor to critique your story, chances are high that he’s going to say a few hurtful things but offer you some great insights.
2. Structural Editing
The name, structural editing, is self-explanatory: this is the type of editing that involves looking at the story’s structure.
Most developmental editors also do structural editing, but they’re not the same thing. Structural editors read your manuscript and try to give it the kind of structure that might best suit the kind of story you’re telling.
Structural editors consider a lot of factors before editing your manuscript. They look at your target audience, your career goals, book promotion, et cetera.
After looking at these factors, a structural editor restructures your entire piece to fit your goals. The restructuring process involves a lot of things; for example, the editor might remove some content from your draft and offer some recommendations about the type of content that needs to be added to the book.
To do this, the editor needs to engage you on your goals for the book and then review the overall structure of your book based on the goals you outline. After that, they start working on the manuscript—performing tasks like improving clarity, sorting out grammatical issues, improving the overall flow and structure, et cetera.
3. Line Editing
I have seen a couple of bloggers use the terms ‘line editing’ and ‘copy editing’ interchangeably. However, these two are different types of editing.
Line and copy editing, although often confused, are not the same thing. If you’re doing line editing you usually focus on prose from a style perspective hence the term: stylistic editing.
A line editor looks at content and flow and considers issues like word choice, sentence structure, the tense used, among other ‘stylistic aspects’ of your prose.
They often give you feedback about how your prose sounds and how effective your word choice is in making that prose a sweet read.
4. Copy Editing
Unlike line editing doesn’t focus on your prose from a style perspective; rather, it looks at it from a mechanical perspective.
A copy editor checks your work for grammatical errors, capitalization, spellings, inconsistencies, and other error-finding tasks, i.e., fact-checking.
A line edit improves the coherency, readability, consistency, clarity, and correctness of your book. By looking at minute details, a copy editor ensures that there’s no chaff in your work.
Proofreading is like applying varnish to a piece of furniture—this is the last stage of editing that makes sure your manuscript is error-free.
A proofreader takes your ‘proof’ (the final designed and formatted version of your book) and reviews it before it goes to publication. Your proofreader isn’t like an architect; rather, he acts like a plumber (to fix a leak) or a cleaner (to mop your floor).
What they basically do is search for typos and misplaced punctuation, point or sort out some layout issues, look at formatting issues (i.e., headings, tables of figures, page breaks, etc.).
Sometimes, the printing process exposes differences between the soft and hard copy versions of your book, so most proofreaders work with the printed version to identify issues that may have gotten introduced during the designing of the book.
Types of Editors
If you’re a self-published author or just publish articles on your blog and never worked in a major publishing house, you probably don’t know that there are many different types of editors, each tasked with their own chore in the publication process.
1. Editor In Chief
The boss—the editor in chief, heads the publication. Just like any other boss, they usually oversee things and don’t get involved with the actual book editing. Instead, they are usually preoccupied with things like advertising, budgeting, and other managerial stuff.
2. Managing Editor
The managing editor works like a coach or team manager, and his team consists of editors. The job of a managing editor is to ensure that edits are made correctly and with a good level of consistency. The managing editor hires new editors and conducts training for both new and existing team members.
3. In-house editor
As the name suggests, an in-house editor works for one publication only. They’re the ones who go knee-deep into your work and ensure that your writing is clear, free of errors, and formatted in line with a specific style guide.
4. Freelance editor
Freelance editors aren’t contracted to any specific publication and work for hire—on an hourly basis.
You can find freelance editors all over the internet—sites like Upwork, Fiverr, LinkedIn, Facebook, and the most legit ones usually have their own websites where they post their content.
Their job description is similar to that of an in-house editor, just that they work on their own and pretty much for anyone who can afford their hourly rates.
Which Is Better For Editing: Professional Editor Or Self-Editing?
Some writers edit their own works because they can’t afford a professional editor. Others just aren’t interested in hiring a professional editor.
I’ve seen a couple of writers complain that their editor didn’t share the vision they had for their book and the editor made or suggested changes that were not in line with the writer’s vision. These kinds of writers just end up deciding to edit their work with no help from a professional editor.
But, what’s better/effective between hiring a professional editor and self-editing?
Well… I believe that each individual has to decide for themselves after weighing their options. Each method has its benefits and each has at least one downside.
For example, self-editing saves some money since you don’t hire anyone, but you forgo the chance of benefiting from a trained eye and a whole lot of fresh new ideas that the editor could provide. Plus, you could miss things that a hawk-eyed editor would easily catch.
If you decide to hire a professional editor, you must be ready to part ways with your money, but a good editor is almost a guarantee for top-quality work. They will improve your manuscript and offer some insights. However, if you’re not careful when hiring an editor from an online platform, you could fall victim to scammers and end up paying a lot of money and having your work stolen.
How Do I Edit My Own Work?
I cannot teach how to self-edit in a few sentences, I would need at least a blog post or a book to cover everything. But for now, let’s cover some basics.
Where Should You Start From?
If you hire a professional editor, they can start looking at your work the same day, but if you want to edit it on your own, leave for some time. When you finish writing, you have to take some time off—do or think about something else in the meantime.
There are two reasons for doing this: first, you’re rewarding yourself for a job well done and, second, if you edit right after writing you’re likely going to miss a lot of mistakes because your mind, which didn’t catch those mistakes a short while ago, is unlikely to catch them now.
When you leave the draft long enough and go back to it fresh and open-minded, you should read the document slowly and aloud—this way, you’ll be able to catch repetitions, run-on sentences, and other things that will loudly fall out of rhythm.
If you wrote some unclear phrases or some very choppy sentences (maybe because you were tired), you’d be able to have the patience and energy to catch those.
Using Grammar Checkers
To get the best out of self-editing, you have to use grammar checkers like Grammarly. Software tools like Grammarly go beyond simple grammar checking and offer most of the checks that an editor is tasked with. Grammarly detects other errors including sentence structure issues and misused words, provides solutions to style changes, offers comprehensive feedback on different areas of your writing, checks for plagiarism, and performs other proofreading stuff in real-time.
When you’re done looking at the mechanical perspective of your writing, you have to format according to given formatting styles (given by the specific publication avenues—in your case, the one you’re going to use to publish).
After that, try to find at least two writers (friends) to proofread your draft. You can join a writing group because some of these groups encourage their members to help one another with editing, proofreading, and writing tips.
Remember that writing is a creative process, thus flexible and adaptive. Read about editing different editing methods and experiment with them.
10 Questions You Need To Ask Yourself When Editing
When you edit your work, you need to ensure that everything in your writing serves an intended purpose, not just increasing the word count or beautifying the text.
There are a lot of questions that you need to ask yourself to make sure everything is in the right place. Here are some of those important questions:
- Does the story structure follow the required basics? Does your plot have the exposition, rising action, climax, and denouement? Does the story have a conflict or a problem that your main character needs to solve? The basics are more important than all the other details, and if you get them wrong, the whole thing is doomed.
- Have I fact-checked the information? If you’ve used some real-life terms and notions, you have to make sure that what you’ve written is, indeed, true.
- Are there any Point of view (POV) inconsistencies? You might know it, but maybe you shifted from one POV to another. Unless it’s by design, you have to check if you were consistent with your POV.
- Should this adverb be here? “The path to hell is paved with adverbs.” I’m sure you’ve heard this quote before, no? Ah well, now you have. Too many adverbs are bad, especially for fiction writing as they just lead to breaking the “show don’t tell” rule.
- Is this adjective necessary? Some adjectives are not effective and you must root them out to a lot of telling. Instead of telling your readers that it was a beautiful, amazing, or exciting site, show them just how good/wonderful it was by using sensory details.
- Is my grammar perfect? Being a good writer requires mastery of a lot of things but good grammar and spellings are at the top of those things. Once your readers notice that your grammar is bad, you’re doomed!
- Am I using the same word too often? To avoid repetition, find substitutes to words that you’ve used too often.
- Have I given the characters enough motivation? Are the backstories effective? It does you and your story a lot of good when you craft 3-dimensional characters. You have to make sure that you’ve given your characters enough motivation for their actions and personalities, and backstories (where necessary).
- Have I checked inconsistencies in layout and typography? You have to tidy up all the inconsistencies in typefaces, spacing, sizes, and contrast. This question has to help make your writing more legible, ordered, and appealing to read.
- Does your sentence structure help your writing flow smoothly and improve consistency? If your writing doesn’t flow, your readers won’t be able to follow you. It’s that simple! Make sure your sentences are written and arranged in a followable order.
So, what type of editing do you think you need? Do you want an editor to look at the overall structure of your book? Or do you do a detail-oriented edit?
If you can afford a professional editor, I recommend that you do so and benefit from an outside-trained perspective that a professional editor offers.
Professional editors aren’t there to do what you can do; experienced editors can identify the type of editing your book needs and what additions can improve it. To get the best out of an editor, you have to clearly communicate your vision and what message you intend to give your readers.
You can’t take quick routes, though. You have to be patient and thorough with both the writing and editing stages.