Picture this...you finish your beloved manuscript, all 500 pages of it, and you are over the moon with excitement and pride. But your retinas feel as if they will burn out of your eyeballs if you review the text one more time. You worry that your manuscript contains errors that you just can't see anymore because you are tired of reading the same lines over and over again. What do you do? You hire an editor.
You are the creative mind, so your job is to let your ideas spill onto the page to tell a story. The editor is the technical mind whose role is to review your work and make little changes here and there to improve your story telling (readability, flow, facts, etc.). The editor will comb through your work, line by line, to iron out the little wrinkles that ultimately distract the reader.
While there are many roles for editors, here are the four main types of editing that authors should know about.
Proofreading is a light touch edit on a ready-to-publish, typeset document. It involves an editor reviewing your document for sneaky little errors that remain hidden in the text, even after all previous reviews and copy edits. Proofreading consists of reading each line in the document for minor errors in the text, typesetting, formatting and layout. It also includes checking pages breaks, location of photos and art, headings and page numbers. You should not be making any more revisions or tinkering with the text after the proofreading stage.
2. Copy editing
Copy editing involves a complete read-through of a double-spaced manuscript in search of errors in grammar, punctuation, spelling, and the mechanics of style. It involves reviewing and noting missing information from the front and back matter (e.g. copyright page, author page), marking inconsistencies in style and facts, and offering suggestions to the author about any areas of concern.
3. Stylistic editing
Stylistic editing is required once you've laid out your ideas but you know that your sentences need work to improve clarity. The editor will review your manuscript line by line to look for ways to rearrange or reword your sentences to clarify meaning, eliminate jargon, and smooth out the language, all while maintaining your original tone. If you know that your story is great but your delivery is weak, hire a stylistic editor to work with you and be open to all suggestions. Give your editor feedback early on in the project so she can fully understand your expectations and be able to rework the text in a way that will make you happy.
4. Structural editing
Structural editing is a big job, but if you're honest with yourself and you know you need help with your manuscript, then a structural editor might be your ticket to actually finishing your book. The editor's role is to read your manuscript and look for ways to improve the order of your paragraphs and chapters and identify any gaps or weak areas. The work could include reorganizing a manuscript for content and structure in close negotiations with the author. Again, make sure you clearly say to the editor exactly what you are expecting her to do and what you need help with. You don't want the editor to do a copy edit on a weak manuscript when what you really wanted (and needed!) was a structural edit.
For more information about editing, check out the excellent online resources found at the Editors' Association of Canada. Also, no matter where you are in the world, you can contact your local editing association and find out more about the workshops and presentation they offer so you can learn valuable information to improve your own editing skills!
Image from the Basic Proofreading course at Simon Fraser University 2013.