Elizabeth: All About Editing

I started reading a book recently that had a character whose name randomly changed from Benedict to Benjamin from page to page.  The hero was intermittently a Marques and a Viscount, with no relevant incident which would have caused the change.  Don’t get me started on the spelling and grammar.

I tossed the book (now I know why it was a freebie) and moved on to another, but it got me to thinking about the importance of editing before releasing a book out into the wild.  It seems a shame to spend time and energy crafting a story, just to have readers give up on it a few pages in due to grammatical errors, inconsistencies, uneven voice and the like.

In a perfect world, you’d write your story, make a revision pass, do a read-through to correct any errors, and be all ready to move on to the next story.  Reality, however, doesn’t work quite that way.  It can be incredibly difficult to clearly see errors in your own writing.  Your brain will fill in missing words, fail to notice incorrect punctuation, and even overlook story inconsistencies and plot fails.  I can (and have) made dozens of editing passes through things I have written and repeatedly found things that needed to be fixed that I’d overlooked previously.

Fortunately, there are professionals out there who are experts at seeing those things we tend to miss.  So let’s talk about the different types of editors your manuscript may encounter before it’s ready to take its place out in the world.

Content editors

Content editors, also referred to as structural or developmental editors, are the big-gun editors, focused on the content of a work.   Rather than looking at the language and usage, they focus on the bigger story components:

  • Plot / sub-plot
  • Character
  • Theme
  • POV
  • Conflict/ escalation

Feedback from a content editor can identify when sub-plots have been lost, when the story lacks cohesive flow, if things could be more effective in a different order, if there are inconsistencies in the plot – all of those big-picture things that can sometimes be hard to see when you’ve been micro-focused on your own story or when you’ve written yourself into a corner.  They can provide suggestions on both content that is missing from your story, as well as content that might not be effectively driving your story and could be removed or revised.


Copy editors are vocabulary and usage experts and they’re basically looking at the “language” of a work.  Reference books like the Chicago Manual of Style or Elements of Style are likely to be on their bookshelf.  They will read through your manuscript line by line, word by word, and look at a number of things including:

  • punctuation
  • spelling
  • grammar
  • verb tenses
  • word usage
  • consistency
  • changes that may be needed for clarity
  • sentence structure / paragraph length
  • fact checking
  • copyright issues (e.g., if you are quoting things)

Copy-editing is typically done when your manuscript is in a word processing format and copy-editors often use automated tools as part of their process.    Finding things that need to be changed in your manuscript at this stage in the process is preferable (and less expensive) than finding them once your book has already been formatted for publication/distribution.

Depending on who you chose, an editor may provide both language and content editing.

Beta-readers and Critique Partners

While not editors, beta-readers and critique partners can be invaluable when it comes to getting “fresh eyes” on your story.   Their reader’s perspective of your manuscript (hopefully they haven’t read it too many times already) can uncover content inconsistencies, pacing issues, sagging middles, and even an unsatisfying HEA.  Critique partners can also often be invaluable when it comes to brainstorming and evaluating potential story ideas.  Beta-readers and critique partners shouldn’t be considered an alternative to copy and content editors, but if engaged first, they can reduce the effort required by other editors, thus potentially reducing your costs.


While a copy-editor will look at your manuscript from a style and usage perspective, the proof-reader will focus more on the presentation and formatting aspects.  Proofreading happens when your manuscript is in its final form, just about ready for publication.  You will have already formatted (or hired someone to format) it for publication (print or digital) and made changes based on the copy-editing and beta-read phases.  The proof-reader will look for the following types of things:

  • Typographical errors
  • Language errors that may have been missed previously
  • Formatting issues
  • Line, word, and page spacing
  • Word breaks and widow/orphan sentences
  • Font inconsistencies

Proofreading is commonly done when your manuscript is in a publication file format (e.g., PDF or epub)

Once you get to the proofreading stage, your rewriting and revising should be complete since anytime you touch your manuscript there is the potential to introduce errors, which would require another round of proofreading.  Definitely something you don’t want to do (or pay to do) multiple times.

Whatever type of editing you choose for your manuscript, the cost will vary according to the type of editing, the editor selected, and the amount of editing required.  Some editors charge a set fee for their work while others may base their fees on time required or number of words.  Whenever possible, it’s best to make sure your manuscript is as clean/strong as you can make it before handing it off to an editor, so that you can make the best use of both their time and your money.

So, have you had any experience with editors?  If so, what was it like and do you have any recommendations for making it a positive experience?

5 thoughts on “Elizabeth: All About Editing

  1. I took a journalism class in college. The teacher had been for many years a copy editor at one of the Chicago dailies. I had reason to turn a paper in late, and she told me to wait while she graded it. Then she marked it up while I watched. It was utterly eye-opening, definitely the best editing lesson I got from her class. When an editor’s good, there’s a lot you can learn from watching one work.

    I have yet to employ a content editor, but I’m thinking about doing so for this current series. In the past, I’ve relied on beta readers and my critique partners to tell me what’s wrong, and that’s interesting, too. Just in the last couple of weeks, I got a long and critical letter from a critique partner, focusing on a particular scene in a chapter, but using it as an example of where she thought I went off the rails. I wasn’t sure I agreed with her, although I did think the tone of that scene was off somehow. And after a week or so of mulling it over, I realized that even though she hadn’t used the word, what she was saying was that there wasn’t enough conflict in that scene. And that was exactly right. Fix the conflict, fix the tone and fix the problem overall.

    So my experiences aren’t the same as employing an editor, but everybody needs a fresh eye on their work. You just can’t see your own mistakes.

    • You’re right, it can be eye opening watching an editor (or almost anyone) work. Sounds like you’ve got a good process that is working well for you. Glad your week of mulling led you to a solution.

      • I was going to write almost exactly the same thing that Kay did. I was a journalism major, and getting the chance to sit and watch over an editor’s shoulder was a huge eye-opener. We took copy-editing classes, too, and got to see the prof copy-edit our copy-edit. And working on the school newspaper, I got to watch my editor (a student, but one who knew far more than I did; I think he was either in a master’s program, or was one of those eighth-year seniors who loved to learn and didn’t want to graduate). (-: I’ll tell you what: I never made the mistake of cavalry for calvary again! A few acid retorts can be quite the learning experience, LOL.

  2. As a former technical writer and on-again/off-again copy editor, I see the value of fresh eyes on your work. And as someone who’s hired a developmental editor for my first book and gotten comments back JUST on the storyboard so far, I can definitely see the value of having someone who understands story development to take a look at your work.

    Kay, if you can swing hiring a developmental editor, go for it. I think Jeanne and I have both gotten some great feedback (hers on her full story, mine just on the storyboard) that justifies the cost.

    I will have to start thinking about copy editors and proof readers. In a pinch, I can probably copy edit my own work, but I’d rather not. I know I miss things when it’s my own. I do better when it’s not my own work. But I’m still a few months away from any of that, so still have time to find someone good.

    Sidenote: when looking for a copy editor or proof reader, pay attention to their communication to you. A good one will not allow any misspellings, typos, etc. in the email/written communication back and forth as you negotiate the work. I want a proof reader/copy editor who is detailed and precise in EVERYTHING they communicate, not just the manuscript.

  3. Late to the party–I meant to get out here last week when you posted, but I’ve been neck-deep in revisions based on feedback from my content editor. In addition to the things you list above, Karen excels at picking out dropped plot threads (I have a tendency to make things crazy complicated and then lose track of the threads) and inconsistencies in my world-building.

    This is the second book in the series that she’s done, and she’s starting to (gently) nag me about the need for a series bible.

    Sample issue: in the first book, one of my minor characters, a she demon, adores expensive man-made shoes and spends most of her time in Hell. My heroine actually pays a visit to Hell, but there’s no mention of the floor of Ring Nine being hot.

    In the second book,as one of the character’s prepares for his first visit to the Netherworld.he digs out a pair of expensive hiking boots made specifically for hiking in volcano fields. The hero demon, comments, “No shoes known to mankind were proof against the fires of Hell.” Karen commented: Worldbuilding issue: Dara made a visit to Hell too, and L wears Manolo Blanik’s.

    Since Book One is currently with the proofreader and headed for the forrmatter, from there, Book Two will be changed to make it consistent.

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