Editing is the process which transforms raw manuscripts into their final publishable content. In traditional publishing, every book goes through editorial processes which range from big picture considerations such as book structure and character development down to the minute details of the rules of grammar. Roughly speaking, there are four levels of editing. Each of the levels is congruent with the others. A thorough proofreading incorporates aspects of the highest level of editing, which is content editing. Copy editing and line editing can have so much overlap it can be hard to tell where one leaves off and the other begins. Excellence in any of the levels of editing leads to excellence in the others. Books, like language itself, are extraordinarily complex at the level of their actual content. And writing itself is deeply subjective. Thus, the need for competent editing from an objective, trained editor.
1. Content editing
represents the most fundamental level of editing that books receive. Content editing is a combination of critique
and developmental editing
. Book critiques, in traditional publishing, are part of the acquisition process. At the same time, the longer one writes, the more necessary multiple manuscript critiques seem to be. The reason why is because its nearly impossible to gain an objective view of one’s own writing without feedback from readers. Of course, the same is true in film and music productions. The creative process tends to be intensely subjective and self-referential while the publishing and production processes are more rooted in the ‘objective realities’ of other people, markets and / or standards. E.g. sales. Naturally writers want and need to know if what they are writing will connect with readers.
- Book critiques are are based on literary and/or commercial criterion and these two factors may dovetail greatly. A good example of this dovetailing comes from bookstore buyers who are besieged by (too) many more new books every year than they can possibly stock. Bookstore buyers commonly ask the following questions of a new title:
- Does the book compel reading? Is so, why and how, if not, why, and to how to remedy. Explanations and prescriptions to include the following:
Is this book necessary, and if so, how? Another way to ask this question is does this book solve a specific problem and/or fulfill a pressing need or desire? The lesson here is that book publishing deeply favors originality and specificity; so, don’t copy the work of others (too much), and solve some definite problem or need. Truly great books are of course always necessary. Craft matters a great deal, but original creative vision, and message, even more so.
What previously published book(s) is this book most like, and how is it different and better? This is a further iteration of ‘necessary.’
- language usage and its ability to immerse or compel the reader to read
- character development
- plot lines
- overall structure for nonfiction works
- emotional and/or spiritual content—message
Publishers (and authors) who are thinking to successfully publish the work at hand should be asking themselves: What problem (or deeply held desires) does this book solve? And most importantly: what developmental processes does the manuscript need to achieve its next higher level of quality? And are these achievable?
Developmental edits are the applied writing and editing processes deemed necessary to improve the manuscript (based on critique) through the remaining publishing and editorial process. Methods range from extensive author rewrites under the guidance of an editor/publisher, to line edits which are extensive corrections and improvements of a manuscript on a sentence by sentence, as well as a structural basis. Some developmental editors also oversee and shepherd the text through all the necessary levels of editing including following.
2. Line editing
is the all-purpose level of editing in book publishing. Imagine a submarine and an accomplished engineer who can fix any issue. That’s the line editor. Line editors operate in the area between developmental editors and copy editors. Line editors are the ‘fixers’ of sentences and larger structures such as plot and character development. Their primary focus is on meaning, fine sentence structure, and overall clear communication. Line editing can also involve writing in the form of making textual suggestions to the author.
3. Copyediting is concerned with the rules of grammar, punctuation, formatting, and spelling. It also includes the following:
- Consistency of usage: Are names, places, and dates appropriately consistent throughout. Are grammatical conventions consistent throughout
- Formatting: for example, correct spacing between words, and paragraphing. Paragraphing is an example of where formatting meets ‘intended meaning.’ A copyeditor will look to see if the paragraphing of the author truly serves the text’s ability to powerfully communicate its meaning.
- Fact checks: Errors of reportage, quotes, excerpts
- Permissions required on material within the manuscript which are not the author’s own
- Attributions: are excerpts from other works clearly documented in a consistent and correct format
- Footnotes: is the format correct, and is all necessary information included. Footnotes can also contain explanatory text, which also needs copy-editing
- Clarity of expression: A sentence can be grammatically correct by fail to carry intended meaning.
Traditional publishers often utilize style sheets which predetermine certain editorial decisions. E.g. whether to use serial commas, rules of capitalization, spelling, punctuation, etc. Publisher style sheets are often based on broadly accepted style guide. Book publishing in primarily based the Chicago Manual of Style
Writers are often surprised at the power of a though copy-edit to strengthen a manuscript. In practice there is a fine line between copy editing and line editing. Line editing includes copyedits and copyediting can easily veer into line edits.
4. Proofreading is the final editing by the author or publisher to correct errors of grammar and design. It includes the following:
- double checking the work of copy editing plus proofreading the final designed text and format including the full interior and cover
- Pagination: are pages correctly numbered including front and backmatter such as title pages and index, copyright page, new chapter pages, etc.
- Table of Contents
- Copyright page
- New Chapter formatting; e.g. use for drop- or small-caps for opening text, pagination
- Widows and Orphans: *Widow: A paragraph-ending line that falls at the beginning of the following page or column, thus separated from the rest of the text. (They have a past but no future.) Orphan: A paragraph-opening line that appears by itself at the bottom of a page or column, thus separated from the rest of the text. *excerpt from Opus Designs.
- End of line hyphenation
- Page headers and footers
Proofreading is arguably among the most valuable of all the edits since it includes everything up to and including the printed page. That said, it seems to be the lest valued in terms of compensation. Authors often do this step themselves.