What Kind of Editing is Right For Me?
You’re going to be putting a lot of time and effort into your book, so it’s important that it’s as good as it can be. With all the different types of editing out there, which one should you choose?
Should I pay for an editor?
Editors come in all different shapes and sizes, and whether you decide to pay for an editor will depend a lot on what kind of writer you are or what publishing outcomes you’re looking for.
Short-form fiction writers and poets can often get away with just beta readers to help self-edit. But when it comes to long-form fiction, that’s when paying for editing services becomes a little more pressing and absolutely essential for those looking to self-publish.
The need to pay for an editor if you plan to publish traditionally is much debated. And to really determine that, you need to be incredibly self-aware.
If you know you have a great idea but worry that your writing chops might not be up to the task of landing a publisher, then you should definitely pay for an editor. But if you’re realistically confident that your writing is good enough to pique an agent or publisher’s interest, then you can get away with just working through feedback from beta readers.
The benefit of traditional publishing is that the publishers carry the editing costs, so if you’re confident that your writing can stand on its own, then publishers are aware they are not reading a fully polished manuscript. It’s something they will take into account when reviewing your pitch, providing they see some potential in you.
This does not hold true for self-published writers, however. The industry standard is based on the work of seasoned professionals who have gone through the publishing process and refined their craft over years of practice. That’s who your self-published work is competing with. Readers expect a certain level of professionalism and polish, which is why hiring an editor who works within those standards is essential.
What kinds of editing are there, and how do I know what is right for me?
Developmental (or “big picture”) editing
Developmental editing is sometimes called “big picture” editing. Your editor will go through your book with a fine-tooth comb and look for anything that might be confusing to readers or detract from the quality of their experience.
A developmental editor will help you identify any plot holes, inconsistencies, or confusing aspects of your story. They may also point out places where you’ve repeated yourself, suggest cuts or find areas that need further narrative or descriptive development, and even check the manuscript for poor dialogue, bad grammar, or punctuation errors. A developmental editor can help fix these issues, so they don’t spoil your readers’ enjoyment of your book.
Developmental editors take a birds-eye view of your story—how everything works together as a whole—so they’ll have specific questions about plot points, character motivations, and other elements of storytelling that make up this kind of work. If there’s ever an inconsistency between two parts of your story, then structural and developmental editing has the highest chance of catching those kinds of errors. It focuses on how all elements work together rather than just checking individual sentences against each other.
Developmental editors are the most expensive of all the editors, as the time and effort they put into fine-tuning your story are higher. If you have a great idea but are struggling to bring it together and need some outside input, then a developmental editor is the right choice for you.
Content or structural editing
As the name suggests, content or structural editing goes beyond the word level. It’s a more in-depth look at your manuscript and helps you revise your story.
There’s certainly some overlap with developmental editors, but generally, a content editor will take on a project assuming that your manuscript is at a certain level of completion. Developmental editors, on the other hand, will help writers with only partially completed manuscripts.
Content editors can help you make your story more interesting by adding tension and conflict. They also ensure that all of your story’s elements work together to create a coherent, logical narrative flow. They will check for narrative consistency, plot pacing, and character development and make comments and suggestions on what needs further development or what to cut out if it doesn’t serve the narrative.
Because of the detail they go into with your manuscript, structural editors are not cheap. If you have a finished manuscript but feel like you still need work on pacing and plot consistency, then a content editor is the right choice for you.
A line editor is a person who goes over your manuscript and looks for grammatical errors and inconsistencies. They will also proofread your work to ensure it sounds right or help you check for consistency (especially useful if you’ve changed details of your narrative halfway through writing).
Whether you need an extra set of eyes or an expert on grammar and punctuation to catch those pesky mistakes, line editing will ensure everything flows properly. While a line editor won’t go into as much detail as a content or structural editor, they will usually pick up on major inconsistencies in the plot and be happy to point out confusing language choices and suggest edits for clarity.
Line editors are the best choice for a writer who needs a professional outlook on their work but is confident in the pace and flow of their narratives. They can range in price but are among the cheaper options for receiving balanced editor feedback that offers both suggestions and corrects copy.
Copyediting is one of the last crucial steps that can make or break your book. Copyeditors check for spelling, grammar, punctuation, and style—basically everything that matters to readers when they’re looking for a professional reading experience. They clean up typos, make sure things are spelt correctly, and fix any other mistakes that might be present in the text.
Copyeditors come in two types – those who are editors only and those who are writer-editors. In my experience, copyeditors who are only editors tend to give very straightforward feedback with no deviation from the task. On the other hand, author-editor hybrids will often stray a little off task into the realms of line editing and offer feedback and suggestions beyond what you might expect from a normal copyeditor.
There are pros and cons to each. If you’re not looking for story feedback, then a straight-up copyeditor will be the right choice for you. But if you’d like a copyeditor with a bit more experience in narrative writing who might be willing to offer suggestions beyond their original remit, then an editor who is also a writer might be worth considering.
Copyeditors are the cheapest editors because they read and correct your work rather than taking the time to delve deeply into your narrative. They’re also the most necessary for a polished manuscript, and something every self-published author should fit into their budget.
Proofreading is the final stage of writing a book and something you should do even if you haven’t hired an editor. This holds true for both self-published authors and those on the query track to finding a traditional publisher. It’s all about catching those lingering errors before putting your work into the world.
Like all other types of editing, proofreading can be done by an editor, who will read through the text and correct mistakes as they see them, but many authors choose to do this step themselves. I do recommend paying for a proofreader if you haven’t had any professional editing done. Still, most editors will include a final proofread in their fee when looking over your manuscript. What’s important is ensuring that you’ve actioned all changes and got your manuscript to a finished state before you go ahead with any proofreading, or you’ll end up doubling up on work.
The aim of proofreading is to ensure that your content is clear and accurate—that there are no typographical, spelling, or factual errors lurking within its pages. You want this to be the very last thing you do before you put your work out into the world. Even if you don’t pay someone to do it, make sure you have someone who is not you go over it on your behalf. You’ve spent so long with your words that it’s easy to miss something. A fresh pair of eyes is absolutely essential.
But what if I can’t afford an editor?
It’s all well and good to tell you that you need to hire an editor, and while it holds true as a general rule, the reality is that it’s simply not in every author’s budget. And just because it’s not in your budget, doesn’t mean that your words don’t deserve to be seen.
If you can save to pay for an editor as part of your writing and marketing budget, do. But if you genuinely can’t, then here are some tips to help you improve your manuscript on a shoestring:
Join writing groups
Joining a group where you can exchange suggestions and comments on each other’s work can help with the developmental editing stage. Hearing a range of opinions and direct reader feedback can be a great way to improve your manuscript. And this way, you pay other writers with your reciprocal time and effort. Just make sure you’re open and remain humble in the face of criticism.
With writing groups, criticism can be hard, but you get out what you put in.
Listen to your book
You’ve spent a long time sitting in front of your typed words, but changing the experience is sometimes all you need to pick up on inconsistencies and pacing issues. By listening to your book out loud (you can use any free text-to-speech browser extension for this if you’ve written in Novlr), you’ll usually be able to pick up overused words and cliches especially.
If you have a friend or family member willing to read aloud to you, even better! That way, you get a natural-sounding voice, and a reader will often pick up spelling mistakes that are easy to miss if you’re simply reading in your head.
Use editing tools and apps
ProWritingAid and Grammarly have made editing a lot more accessible. Both have free versions, but if you want more in-depth suggestions, you can upgrade to their pro versions for the time you need them without breaking the bank. Additionally, ProWritingAid is integrated directly into Novlr, so you have it at your fingertips without having to pay anything extra!
You do need to be wary of false positives when you use editing software rather than hiring a person, but it’s still a great way to improve your manuscript if you’re on a tight budget.
Join an online feedback community like Scribophile
Scribophile is a great way to get feedback, comments, and suggestions on your manuscript from other writers. You earn points by giving other writers feedback that you can then spend to upload your own work for feedback in exchange. It’s an entirely reciprocal program. I used it for my recently published short story, The Anatomical Venus, and the community feedback was absolutely wonderful!
Find beta readers
Beta readers should be an essential part of any writer’s pre-publication checklist, but they’re especially important for writers on an editing budget. They’re often the only kind of external feedback you’ll get, so being intentional in what feedback you ask for can be a great way to make sure your story has the right pacing and flow.
If you consider yourself an author, then it’s worth investing in your writing and making sure that it stands out. An editor can be the difference between a good story and a great one. If you want to make sure that your writing is as good as it can be, then you need to invest some money, or alternatively, your time, in making sure your manuscript is as polished as possible. Your readers will thank you for it.