Just Creative Writing

Editing as a Craft: Part III - Professional Editing

As writers, we are very protective of our work and don’t want people messing with what we consider to be the best piece of writing ever. But that’s just one person’s opinion, and it is best to search out another opinion. This is where the professional editor comes in. This is the person who will tell us what is write (haha - a little editing humor there!) and what is wrong. We have to trust this person to give us the best information for moving forward, and it should be in an understandable and positive presentation.

Now, where do we go to find this miracle worker? Several professional societies provide direction through their membership. Some of these are: The Editorial Freelancers Association (www.the-efa.org), the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (www.NAIWE.org), and the America Copy Editors Association (www.aceseditors.org). We can solicit help through these organizations and feel comfortable that the person(s) we end up with will be professional.

So, what exactly is editing? What makes it so important that we should spend money to let someone criticize our work? There is no one answer, but several. Let’s start with the easiest and work our way up.

Proofreading: A proofreader provides a final check of the document for minor mistakes in grammar, spelling, punctuation, spacing, etc., before publication. It does not involve commentary on the work itself. The cost varies - some charge per word (average $.009), some charge per page ($3.60), or per hour ($30-35). So using these figures, an average 90,000-word manuscript would cost $810 per word, $1260 per page (based on 250 words per page or 360 pages), or $1080 ($30-35 per hour). I formulated the hourly rate at 360 pages ➗10 (pages per hour) = 36 hours x $30. 

Now, as we get into the nitty-gritty of editing, going forward will be a little “iffy” because there are many forms of copyediting and I’ve picked the basics to discuss.

Copy Editing: The copy editor is primarily concerned with the proofreading issues mentioned above - grammar, spelling, punctuation, but s/he also looks at the writer’s style. Copy editors ensure proper word usage and suggest alternatives. Some projects require a heavy copy edit while others not so much. If the writing is good, a light copy edit may be all that is needed. Generally, copy editing will take more time than proofreading since it may involve more than just one read-through. The copy editor will check for consistency of style such as headings, bullets, scene breakers, etc., He or she will also make sure that the facts are consistent such as dates and places. 

Basic copyediting involves comprehending about 10 manuscript pages per hour, and on industry average will cost about $30 - 40 an hour. Heavy copyediting, which may require several passes through the manuscript, at approximately 2 - 5 pages per hour will be between $40 - 50 an hour. Copyediting is generally the least-expensive version of editing.

Some professionals divide copyediting and line editing into two separate edits, copyediting being the lighter, grammar-only edit, and line editing being a more intense look at the work as a whole.

Content Editing or Developmental Editing: This is the professional who looks over a manuscript in detail. S/he will look through the manuscript for anything inconsistent that rises to the top or just hovers undercover. Issues may range from character behavior to writing style issues, and just plain readability. A content editor will make sure all parts of the story make sense; that the dialogue is believable; the story arc flows from beginning to middle to end in a logical pattern; that there are no side trips that take away from the story, and that any backstory does not detract from the plot.

Line or Substantive Editing: This is the last step in the process. This is where the rubber hits the road (I know...cliche!), a substantive or line edit can make the difference between being a writer or a professional author. A line edit goes down to the sentence and paragraph level. This editor will go over each word in each sentence to make sure the document is ready for the next step. They proofread, copyedit, make sure there is consistency and proper word usage and may offer suggestions with rewriting or rewording as appropriate.

A line editor’s mission is to make sure that the author is communicating his or her story as the author sees it – through language and style. A clear, fluid, presentation is a pleasure to read regardless of whether the work is fiction, nonfiction, creative nonfiction, essay, poetry, or recipe. From the opening hook to the end, the line editor will look for ways for the work to convey emotion and tone.

It’s important to note here (and repeat here!) that the line editor helps the author to develop his or her story, but not to write or rewrite anything for the authors. They help the author paint a clear picture for the reader; they examine the structure and suggest any needed reorganization including moving phrases, sentences, paragraphs and perhaps even entire chapters if that is what is needed to clarify the work. Ultimately, the substantive editor’s job is to help the author deliver clear, coherent writing to the intended audience.

As you can see from the past two weeks, there are a lot of options when it comes to revising and editing, and they are all important. Each step in the process will only make your manuscript better, and a professional edit is never wasted money. Once you have determined which type of edit you feel is needed, spend the time and effort to find the right person. This should not be a one-time relationship, it should be one in which you will develop an ongoing relationship.

The job of an editor, regardless of the level of editing, is to help us tell a better story, to improve our manuscript, but to also gives us the creative tools to help us with future projects.