Recently I was hired to provide feedback on a client’s novel. Before he sent me the manuscript, we were both very clear about what he was looking for and what kind of editing I would be doing. Over the years I’ve edited countless pages of newspaper and magazine articles, college essays, website content, and more, but editing a book was a first for me. I was ready. My client said he wanted a general assessment of his work which meant I was not going to be correcting grammar or pointing out awkward phrasing, repetitive wording, or typos. Hooray! After years of micro-editing students’ papers, it was weird to not make any comments about those aspects of the writing but it was also a welcomed change.
Here are four types of editing that can be done with a manuscript:
An overall assessment of the work, a manuscript critique responds to character development, plot structure, theme, overall consistency, and general issues in the narrative. The editor considers the manuscript as a whole but gives specific advice on what needs to be improved. For example, I let my client know that although the character backstories are well-written, going into too much detail about every single character is unnecessary. I suggested he stick to that kind of detail for the main characters only – not the secondary or minor ones. I also pointed out that the story could be cut down by approximately 30 pages which would keep readers more engaged.
While the manuscript critique provides an overview, the comprehensive edit goes much more in depth in terms of language, writing style, sentence structure, tone, and fluidity. The editor will give advice on how to pare down the narrative while focusing on how the story is conveyed to readers. Word choice, specificity, and ways in which the writer communicates with the reader are all significant parts of the comprehensive edit as well.
Bringing me back to my newspaper days, the copyedit is the most methodical of all the edits as it offers feedback on storytelling as well as technical errors and inconsistencies in the narrative. When I graded my students’ rough drafts, I spent a ton of time correcting spelling, punctuation, run-ons, fragments, citation issues, and the list goes on and on. It was exactly as exhausting as it sounds. That being said, details matter and copyediting addresses all those details which is guaranteed to improve the narrative.
The final stage! Proofreading happens after all the errors have been corrected and the holes in the story have been filled. Every time the proof the latest edition of the newspaper was delivered, we got to see exactly what it would look like once it went to press. Seeing the layout in its entirety before giving the green light helps because we saw the headlines, photos, line breaks, and captions all pulled together and ready to go. For manuscripts, at this stage, all of the errors should have been previously addressed but the final proofread is an opportunity to ensure that the work is error-free and ready for print. It also serves as a preview of everything the author has worked so hard to complete.
Regardless of what type of edit the writer chooses, I can’t reiterate enough that everyone needs an editor. I’m an editor and I need an editor! A second set of eyes is not only invaluable it’s vital to ensuring that the author’s best work is put forth for the masses to read. After all the time a writer spends bleeding over their pages, they owe it to themselves to have someone else provide feedback. It’s scary but it’s worth it.