When a fiction writer says, “I need an editor,” what exactly does it mean? What kind of editor? What kind of editing? This post discusses different levels and types on the fiction editing spectrum.
It took me thirty years of struggling through my own writing process to realize there’s more to producing an effective, salable story—whether it be a short story, novelette, novella, or novel. Much more than merely throwing X number of words on the page and running spellcheck before rushing the a manuscript to an agent or publisher.
The most important thing I’ve learned is that editing is not only necessary, but crucial to successfully placing stories in today’s markets, including self-publishing. And “editing” isn’t a one-size-fits-all service; there are different types of editing, depending on where your manuscript is in the writing and revision process.
Five levels of editing
I provide story coaching (link coming soon) for consultation during the planning and drafting stage of story development.
When you’ve produced a manuscript draft, I offer comprehensive fiction editing at the following levels that range from very high down to the nitty gritty:
|Level||Type of Editing||Aim|
|Very high||Manuscript evaluation||Realize your story’s full potential|
|High||Developmental editing||Tell a better story|
|Mid||Line editing||Tell that better story the best way|
|Low||Copy editing||Tell that best story without mechanical errors|
|Close-up||Proofreading||Present that corrected story cleanly|
The types of editing at each of these levels exist on the following spectrum.
The editing spectrum
As a results-oriented editor of dark fiction, I provide all five levels of editing, along with a few other services.
Wherever you are in your writing process with a piece of dark fiction, I can help you improve your work.
|If you’re here…||You’ll benefit from this kind of editing…|
|Perhaps you’re still in the planning stage and haven’t yet begun drafting a new story. You could use a sounding board to discuss your idea, options for structure and plot, POV choice, narrative tense to use, and so on. You’d like an opinion about your approach to writing before you begin (or during) the writing process.||Story coaching (link coming soon) is for those who are noodling about an incomplete idea or wrestling with an unfinished manuscript you’re unsure what to do with. Story coaching—which I provide through video consultation (link coming soon)—will help guide you toward completing a solid draft. I’m also available if you simply have burning questions about writing craft.|
|You’ve drafted a story, novella, or novel that you need to have evaluated at the story level. Are you heading in the right direction? Are all the pieces in place, or is something missing? Are they in the most effective order? Does it need developmental editing or more? What could you do to make this story better before you revise and polish? You need a broad, comprehensive analysis of your manuscript.||Manuscript evaluation gives you an educated opinion, in writing, about how your draft stacks up, evaluating such elements as structure, plot, pacing, characterization, point of view, dialogue, description, setting, and more. Most importantly, it includes what you could do to improve these elements and make your story better. Part of evaluation is determining if further editing would benefit your work.|
|You’re trying your best but need hands-on help to include all the elements of a strong story: structure, plot, characterization, point of view, and so on. Are the necessary pieces in place, in the most effective order, and in the right proportion? Have you made any glaring errors at your story’s foundation that would lead to rejection?||Developmental editing evaluates the building blocks of your story, checking that they’re present and working well together. It ensures that your structure and plot are solid, characters well-drawn and motivated, point of view correctly executed, setting and description vividly drawn, dialogue rings true, mood and tone support the overall story.|
|You’ve written a solid story (thanks to developmental editing), and now it’s time to focus on how you communicate those ideas to your readers. You’ve got a unique writing style that you want to preserve. But the way you build and connect paragraphs and sentences could use refinement. You want a seamless reading experience to keep readers reading.||Line editing enhances your writing style so that your language is clear, flows effortlessly, and reads well. Refining paragraph and sentence construction ensures that all the right building blocks are in place and maximizes the effectiveness of the ideas you communicate. Misspellings, wrong words, awkward phrasing, and more are corrected. Line editing tightens your writing.|
|You’ve written a solid story (thanks to developmental editing), which line editing further improved. Now it’s time to polish your work so it doesn’t get rejected because you submitted a less than professional manuscript. You know you need help with sentence structure, grammar, and spelling. That help is available.||Copy editing hones your writing style by correcting spelling, grammar, syntax, and punctuation errors; ensuring that your writing adheres to editorial style standards; clarifying the text by eliminating ambiguous or factually incorrect information; flagging continuity inconsistencies; and producing a smooth reading experience.|
|Your story, novella, or novel has undergone line editing and copy editing. Now it’s time to go over the text with a fine-toothed comb to catch all those minor but pesky errors that bother some readers. You’ve proofed the manuscript yourself, but you need a second set of eyes before bringing your baby out in public.||Proofreading ensures that your manuscript is free from spelling, grammar, and other errors that could ruin the reading experience and discredit your writing—and you. Proofreading will detect any remaining minor errors in your text, from misplaced commas to misused words, and correct typographical and layout issues.|
You may only want to work on early issues with story coaching, manuscript critique, or developmental editing. Many writers skip these early steps and instead contract for a simple proofread to finalize their work before seeking publication. I learned the hard way in my own fiction-writing career that this is a big mistake—one that cost me decades of constant rejections.
Here’s why this is important…
The importance of editing in stages
Why edit in stages? Simply because it’s humanly impossible to flag every kind of error in one pass.
Instead, to maximize the effectiveness of comprehensive editing, it’s industry best practice to perform each editing stage individually, progressing to the next only when the current stage is thorough and complete.
In other words, you should send your manuscript in order through each of the four editing stages. Doing so ensures you’re addressing problems logically and not wasting time and effort correcting passages that need to be rewritten or may be removed.
This means you complete story-level work (manuscript evaluation and developmental editing) before doing text-level work. Line editing should always come before copy editing, not after or at the same time.
An example of editing in stages
Here’s a writer’s original passage:
The toothless hag hissed; spraying blood over her furowed chin and the bouquet of leafy twigs she proffered. Her drooping body was covered with vines. He took them from her and she screamed to curdle the blood in his heart.
Here’s what a line editor would do to improve the passage:
The toothless hag hissed; spraying blood over her furowed chin and the bouquet of leafy twigs she proffered. Vines covered h
Her drooping body was covered with vines. He tookaccepted the mtwigs from her and she screamed, tocurdling e thehis blood in his heart.
Reads better, doesn’t it? But editing isn’t complete. A copy editor would clean it up like this:
The toothless hag hissed,
;spraying blood over her furowedfurrowed chin and the bouquet of leafy twigs she proffered. Vines covered her drooping body. He accepted the twigs from her and she screamed, curdling his blood.
Even better. A proofreader would use a fine-toothed comb to ensure the final edited paragraph was the best it could be:
The toothless hag hissed, spraying blood over her furrowed chin and the bouquet of leafy twigs she proffered. Vines covered her drooping body. He accepted the twigs from her, and she screamed, curdling his blood.
Granted, inserting a necessary comma isn’t much of a change in a single paragraph, but proofreaders find and fix many other minor issues in a whole manuscript.
Important: You should complete both developmental and line editing before you query agents or traditional publishers. If you’ll be self-publishing, you should complete all editing stages (developmental, line, and copy editing; then proofreading) before putting your book on the market. (Although, even if your book is already on the market, you may have the manuscript edited at some level and re-upload the corrected content.)
As a comprehensive editor of dark fiction, I supplement every level of editing with an editorial letter that explains and provides context for comments and edits I’ve made in your marked-up manuscript.
The bottom line
What you want most of all is a seasoned editor who understands the differences between the four levels of editing and who can explain what each will do to improve your dark fiction.
When you’re ready to take the next step to improve your writing, I can evaluate your manuscript, discuss your options with you, and lead you through the process of producing a polished piece of dark fiction. For more information, check out Dark Fiction Editing.
What an editor can—and cannot—do (and that includes me)
An editor can:
- Tell you why your story doesn’t work.
- Show you how to fix what needs fixing.
- Improve your story so that it reaches its full potential.
- Help you become a better, more skilled writer.
An editor cannot:
- Fix your manuscript for you.
- Guarantee anything, especially publication.
It’s up to you to make (or not make) the suggested changes. And, although no editor can guarantee publication, I can move you closer to your goals. Every edit is a learning experience that will help you become a better writer.
If you don’t know what kind of editing you need
Not sure what level of editing would benefit you most? Read through the following list and pick one or two that best represent your situation.
- If you’ve completed a story and want an analysis of story elements, revealing what’s working, what isn’t, plus suggestions for improvement, you need manuscript evaluation.
- If you simply need a sounding board to discuss your idea, get an opinion about your approach to writing, and ask writing craft questions, you need story coaching (which I provide through video consultation).
- If you have an incomplete idea or unfinished manuscript you’re unsure what to do with, you need story coaching or developmental editing to help you complete a solid draft.
- If you’ve finished an early draft of a work and need help to solidify it at the story level, you need developmental editing.
- If you’ve completed a manuscript and think it’s pretty good but you want it streamlined and tightened, you need line editing.
- If your manuscript has been through line editing, you need copy editing.
- If your manuscript has been through the previous levels, you need proofreading.
- If your manuscript has been through all the above, congratulations! You’re ready to submit or self-publish.
If you’re still not sure what kind of editing you need or have questions, contact me and ask. We’ll figure something out that will best serve you, your story, and your writing career.