It’s inevitable—we all make mistakes. In life, in love, in baking: you name it, we can’t all be perfect. But that’s not the real reason you need manuscript editing once you finish your masterpiece. The REAL reason is that once you’re that close to something, especially something precious, you can’t be objective. Now that you’ve spent weeks (or years) writing and revising your book, you simply can’t catch everything. Your eyes have gotten too accustomed to the words on the page. (And–fun neurological fact–your brain actually fixes the mistakes for you, filling in the missing letters or commas.)
But what type of manuscript editing do you need? What is a line editor versus a copyeditor versus a proofer? How do you know who to hire? At Launch My Book, we primarily help non-fiction authors with this kind of editing, so that’s mostly what I’ll talk about here.
What Type of Manuscript Editing Do You Need? Here’s the Difference.
This is crucial when you’re at a stage in your manuscript where you need support with organization and structure—the fundamentals. Maybe it’s helping you think through the main arguments of a particular section of a book, or maybe it’s helping rearrange sections so they better support the main points you’re trying to make. It also includes things like coming up with ideas for chapter titles, or whether you need multiple subsections of a chapter and what they might be. Maybe it’s more technical, such as, are you unintentionally changing tenses, and what should you do about it? Developmental editing is a collaborative process between you and your editor, and you’ll work together and go through multiple rounds.
This is exactly how it sounds. Your editor goes line by line through the manuscript and makes sure everything you’ve written makes sense! They’re working at the paragraph and sentence level, and your line editor is “listening” as they read. How’s the flow? Does the language “sound” clunky? Are there awkward constructions that could be cleaned up to help with clarity? Have you repeated yourself, or forgotten to share with your reader an important bit of information that will ease their ability to understand your meaning? Are words out of place, or is there inconsistency of voice? How about section headers—do they all make sense? Your line editor will track changes, and their work usually doesn’t include the “small stuff” like misspellings, punctuation, and so forth.
This stage is towards the end of a manuscript editing process, but before proofing.
Your copyeditor will follow a standard style manual, either one you agree upon like the Chicago Manual of Style (that’s what we use) or one provided by your publisher or journal, depending on how you plan to publish.
This leads to another point about copyediting that is important to bear in mind: The copyeditor has a responsibility to you, the author, to ensure that the final manuscript represents YOU (your voice, your best work, your intentions) while also having a responsibility to the audience, the readers of your book. Will your readers understand your meaning? To have a professional pair of eyes on your work helps you to be sure that there aren’t any elements of your manuscript that would lead to confusion. If a copyeditor works for a publisher, they also are responsible to them, ensuring that your book matches the style guide followed by that publisher. If you self publish, you’re both the author and the publisher, so there is no third constituent the copyeditor is responsible for representing.
Some examples of things your copyeditor will be looking for:
Consistency is so important in a long manuscript, and it is very difficult for an author to be internally consistent without a supportive, fresh eye. Why? Your book evolves over the course of writing it. Maybe at the beginning, for example, you were using a short anecdote by way of introduction, indented at the start of each chapter, but then, towards the end, you stopped doing that, but didn’t notice. Or maybe early on, you refer to a chart as Figure 1, and later you call a chart Figure Three, or maybe you call it Table instead of a Figure. These are the sorts of inconsistencies your copyeditor will be looking for.
Authors constantly are making choices as they write, and you might forget what choice you made over the year (or five!) spent writing your book. For example, in one recent project, our author client had instances of the Earth (capitalized) and earth (lowercase). Sometimes it was ambiguous whether she meant Earth (the planet), earth (soil, the ground), or “Mother Earth.” We made a decision about how to treat all three, and then as the copyeditor, I combed the manuscript and adjusted them accordingly.
Your copyeditor will be checking for things like:
- Are all the footnotes or endnotes present? Are they correctly formatted?
- Does each table or illustration referenced point to the correct figure number?
- Do the titles in the Table of Contents match the titles of each chapter throughout the book, or have things changed through the course of writing?
- Inside a particular chapter, do you refer to another section of the book that you’ve since removed, but then forgot to delete the internal reference?
Your copyeditor will be watching out for times that you break the rules for grammar and style. Remember! There is room for you, as the author, to make decisions about how you want to handle certain things. For example, do you want all internal, unspoken dialogue to be in quotation marks, or not? (She thought to herself, I hope that my book reaches millions of people! verses, She thought to herself, “This book is going to be a dud.”)
It is also very much ok to break rules, so long as you break them intentionally and consistently. (Think of all the great works of literature–how many of those authors followed every convention? Most great artists and thinkers break convention, and it’s ok for you to do that, too, so long as you’re doing it on purpose!) One important point: your copyeditor has a responsibility to know which rules to break within the context of your book, bearing in mind the audience and printing format, and your overall intentions. They must use their subjective decision making in their recommendations to you, and you must use your own common sense and best judgment when deciding which of their suggestions to follow or ignore.
Fact Checking, References
Not all copyeditors will include fact checking in their services, and it largely depends on the subject matter. However, your hope in a good copyeditor is that they will catch obviously incorrect statements, and think to check some of the more important facts in your manuscript, and make a note of any corrections to be made.
If your manuscript includes footnotes, endnotes, a bibliography or reference list, your copyeditor’s job also includes checking the formatting of each, and ensuring that everything requiring a reference has one. This can be a long and very detailed process, and can be a pricey (but worthwhile) addition to ensuring the quality of your book.
As you can tell, the copyeditor’s job is broad, and requires a detailed eye to catch all these kinds of things, making sure everything works together. A copyeditor doesn’t always make the changes — sometimes they simply point them out and leave it to you to make the changes, so be sure you ask how your copy editor works before you get started. They also don’t always look for–or catch–every piece of punctuation or misspelling. This is what your last phase of editing is for…the final proof.
This is the final stage of sending off your manuscript to be formatted. If you’ve been working with one person or multiple people, sometimes during the track-changes stage, errors creep in. The proofer reads the whole manuscript with fresh eyes to catch those rogue commas, misplaced hyphens, and extra spaces.
Sometimes people will also proof their book after it’s been formatted because errors can creep in then, too. These days, however, with the technological tools at our disposal, it’s more rare for errors to happen after interior formatting than in the time when printing presses were hand set! So it matters most that you have the proof done before you submit it to your formatter.
If you are working with a big publisher, they may offer you some or all of these manuscript editing services. If you’re an indie author, or self-publishing, you will want to hire an editor for at least one if not more of these stages. Many professional editors will focus exclusively on one stage of the editing process, being a specialist in, say, developmental editing, or copyediting. On the other hand, in the case of us here at Launch My Book, editors may be willing to work with you on multiple stages of the editing journey. Who you hire, and how many different people you work with, may depend on the level of help you need, how quickly you want your book published, and your budget. Any way you look at it, though, an editor is a crucial part of your publishing journey, and it’s important to have a basic understanding of the different roles an editor can play. If you have any questions, please leave a comment or email us!