Notice the title of this post is not Does your novel need editing? The answer to that question is YES. Always. I don’t care if you wrote The Great Gatsby of the modern day; your novel needs to be edited.
For those of you going the traditional publishing route, this question is a little less important. Personally, I would advise paying for a professional edit or two to give your novel a leg up when it reaches potential agents and/or publishers. However, once you sign on the dotted line, your publishing company will hook you up with editing and everything will be hunky dory. More on the traditional publishing process here.
For those of you going the independent route (like me!), editing is crucial. Selecting which type — or, more commonly, types — of editing you need is one of the many “sell or sink” decisions you will make during the book creation process. This is especially difficult to do if you have little-to-no experience with editing and/or are on a tight budget. Let’s face it: the editing world is filled with varying verbiage and even more varying prices.
Here are the five most common types of editing indie authors utilize: from most intensive/large scale and most expensive to least intensive/micro scale and cheapest.
Typically, developmental editing takes place while the author is still drafting the novel. In this type of editing, the editor will work with the author to help develop the plot, subplots, characters, story arc, etc. To an extent, the editor acts like a co-author or counselor, helping the author bring his ideas to fruition. A developmental edit does not address style, grammar, and/or punctuation. Because of the intense time commitment and amount of work this requires, this is often the most expensive form of editing. Developmental editing is the least common form of editing and not usually recommended unless the author is having major issues during the book’s drafting.
Content editing is similar to developmental editing, only it occurs after the novel is drafted. During a content edit, the editor will examine all elements of the novel: plot, subplot, character development, story structure, narration/description, word repetition, stylistic details, etc. Essentially, anything related to the novel’s content is addressed at this stage. Depending on the content editor, she may point out issues related to grammar, but that is not the primary focus of a content edit. Again, because of the time and large-scale criticism this type of content editing involves, it is usually rather expensive. Content editing is recommended mainly for first time or new authors who are still learning the basics of writing craft.
Edit: As many authors noted in the comments, beta readers can provide content editing (for free). Read this post for more on finding/using beta readers.
Line editing and copy editing are rather similar. Some editors consider them synonymous; others differentiate between them. In essence, line editing is the form of editing in which grammar becomes involved. A line editor will address a novel’s grammar, sentence structure, and punctuation. Typically, a line editor will also offer advice on the author’s writing style, and at his discretion, may comment on a few larger scale issues, such as story line or character development. This is an extremely common form of editing for indie authors to utilize and comes with a middle range price tag.
Again, copy editing is similar to line editing. A copy editor will correct grammar and punctuation errors. However, a copy editor does not typically advise on sentence (re-)structuring or writing style. Of course, at her discretion, a copy editor may comment on broader issues with the novel, but this is not likely. Like line editing, this is a common form of editing for indie authors and comes with a middle range price tag.
Proofreading is the most “basic” form of editing. A proofreader corrects typographical errors related to capitalization, spelling, punctuation, and basic grammar. Most of the time, a proofreader will not comment on anything outside of these errors, but again, more intensive editing is at her discretion. Proofreading is generally the cheapest form of editing.
Because of its “basic” nature, proofreading is very dangerous. Many indie authors feel that they can skip over proofreading, in favor of doing it themselves. After all, why pay someone to do what spell check can do? Industry professionals (and even amateurs like me) strongly advise against this. It is extremely difficult to see one’s one errors, especially after one has already written, read, revised, edited, re-written, re-read one’s book so many times. At the very least find a friend or fellow writer with strong grammar skills and who is an avid reader to do the proofreading for you.
Of course, as with any industry, there are other forms of editing and other definitions of these five types. However, these are the most common types of editing and, in my opinion, good stock-standard definitions of them. Indie authors, feel free to chime in below with the types of editing you recommend to your peers and any other forms I may have missed.
For more on how to find an editor or editing company (including how I found mine), read 10 Ways to Find Editing Services on a Budget.