The short answer is yes. If you are writing to be published – whether it be a manuscript, a blog post, marketing material, training manual, or a business report – you need an editor. If you want people to be interested in what you have to say, you need an editor.
I’m writing about this because it seems to be a common question and I would like to help you find your answer.
If you are unsure of what editing is, or what the distinct types of editing are, please keep reading as I will explain further on.
Why we need editors
As a writer, we are too close to what we have written. We know what it is meant to say, and how it is meant to be interpreted. It can be hard to tell if our writing makes sense to others, reads clearly, and our meaning clear. It is also easy to misspell words, use incorrect grammar and punctuation, or even forget essential information. We all do it, even editors. It is not a reflection on your ability to write, it is only that we are too close to the subject matter.
Many writers feel that editing is a luxury and only for those with big budgets, but that is not the case. Editing is an investment, and if you won’t invest in yourself, then you won’t reap any benefits.
Whether you are going to self-publish or submit to a traditional publisher, or if your work is for marketing or business purposes – if you want to be taken seriously, you must get your writing edited. No one wants a reader (of any type of document) to be too busy finding small errors or inconsistencies in the text, to pay attention to what you are trying to communicate. If you want to be taken seriously, you need an editor.
The different levels of editing
Now I will explain the different levels of editing. It will be a ‘crash course’ as to fully explain each level would take a while. I am also putting them in the order they are undertaken during the pre-publishing process.
Step 1: Developmental editing. This is sometimes called structural or substantive editing. This is when the editor focuses on the overall picture of your content. They will look at plot, pace, point of view, flow, characterisation, and relevance to your intended audience.
Step 2: Copy editing. This is sometimes called a line editing. There are some that say they do two different tasks. According to the Australian Style Manual, 6th Edition, and every other resource I could find, both the copy and line editor do the same thing. They will take an in-depth look at the content, going over its word-by-word, line-by-line. They will be checking things like grammar, spelling, punctuation, and vocabulary. They will also look at the style, layout, and check the flow and clarity as well.
Step 3: Proofreader. This is the final step before going to publication. The proofreader is your quality control. It is undertaken after the project has been typeset. They check that no errors have been introduced during typesetting, for example: extra spaces, errors in alignment, widows, and orphans etc. They ensure that the style sheet has been followed, that nothing was missed during editing, and that all page numbers and running heads are there and where they should be.
Now, if you have a big budget, get all three steps done. But, if you have a small budget, which step should you choose? You need to decide which readers you want on your side? Some people have suggested that you only really need a proofreader, especially if your budget is tight. Let’s have a look.
Here is an example. You are a first-time fiction writer. You have finished your book. You’ve completed three drafts and feel that you’ve done the best you can. Your storyline is great, but you know that there are still grammar, vocabulary, and punctuation errors that your spellcheck program wouldn’t have picked up. You are also a little worried about the structure of your sentences.
Reader 1 buys it. They don’t notice the issues because they love the story so much and will probably buy any future books you write.
Reader 2 buys it. While they loved the plot of your book, they notice the poor structure of your sentences. That your dialogue is not punctuated correctly, and you can’t always be sure who is speaking. They notice the times that the wrong their/there is used, and the chapter breaks don’t seem to make sense. They now feel they wasted their money, leave a not-so-nice review, and will not purchase again.
A development editor would have looked at the overall picture of your book, and overall, your book is great. The plot is great, the story flows well, and the characters are all fleshed out nicely. Nothing more they can really do.
A proofreader would find this job impossible if it hasn’t been edited first. This is supposed to be the final step, after typesetting, before publishing. They can check for the widows and orphans, can check that your line break hyphens aren’t all stacked up, and that the page numbers and running headers are correct and where they should be.
But that is not what your story needs, is it? Enter the copy editor. The issues listed in the example are a perfect fit for a copy editor to help you with.
Of course, the final decision on which service you feel is right for you, is yours. It is your content, and you can publish it in whatever manner you want. And remember, not all readers are the same.
I wrote this to let you know what the various jobs are in pre-publishing, what tasks they undertake, and so you can have realistic expectations on what to expect from each of these people. I hope this helps you with your decision-making process.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I am happy to answer!