“To write is human, to edit is divine.”—Stephen King
The word “editing” is often used as an umbrella term to describe the field that is pivotal to the publishing industry. However, editing has many different stages, each one of them equally important and inter-connected. When it comes to editing a manuscript, a professional Editor will look at many different things, from story arc to punctuation. Yet, being able to determine which type of editing your draft requires can be a challenge, especially if you are not aware of the basic differences among the three stages of editing:
Developmental Editing: This is usually the first stage of editing. It is required for the author whose story is not developed well enough, who is unsure on how to present and develop characters, or who is going through the much-dreaded writer's block. That's when the Editor steps in to save the day. By focusing exclusively on substantive editing, the Editor will study story arc, character development, plot, manuscript flow, dialogues, narrative voice and tone, overall readability and marketability, and much more. In this case, the Editor has the freedom to rewrite a few sentences as sort paragraphs, while mostly acting as a guide for the author, helping them complete their manuscript.
Copy Editing: This is the second editing stage that a manuscript needs to go through, and also the one that 90% of first-time authors believe they can skip because they had good grades in grammar school. Copy editing is the hardest and most time-consuming stage of editing, yet the most underrated, which often results in a manuscript looking sloppy and not professional, thus making potential literary agents dismiss it as soon as they spot a detail that doesn't conform to the Chicago Manual of Style. Copy editing includes correcting punctuation, grammar, spelling, word choice, typos, sentence structure, and making sure the manuscript follows rules and guidelines of the Manual.
Proofreading: This is the final stage of editing before the manuscript is ready to be submitted to literary agents. Proofreading happens only after the manuscript has gone through the previous two editing stages, and the main scope of the proofreading is to have one final look at the text to make sure that no error escaped the copy-editing stage. At this point, it is too late for the author to ask the Editor to help with substantive changes, since this is something that should have been done during the developmental editing, or to help with word choice and sentence structure, because this is something that should have been done in the copy-editing stage.
Which editing stage does your manuscript need? Don't be discouraged if you are unsure of the answer. This is something that usually only a professional Editor can help you determine, which is why I always ask my potential clients to send me part of their manuscript, so I can assess the content for free and let them know which stage they will have to start at. So, are you ready to find out?