Congratulations! You’ve finally typed the long-awaited words of your masterpiece—“The End.” You thought this day would never come. But what is the next step? Do you need an editor now? If so, what type? Wading through the different services that professional editors provide can be confusing and the process of selecting the right one for your needs can be daunting. There are as many types of editors out there as there are authors, and they all offer a different level of support depending on what you might require. Some editors span a spectrum of services and some focus on a niche according to the area of expertise. Let’s break it down starting with the most general help you might need at the beginning of the project and go from there:
Alpha readers: This is someone who is a nonprofessional. They will likely be found amongst your family or friends. Find someone won’t mind reading a first, unpolished draft of your work. They will likely have a lot of encouragement for you. This is important, since it is the first time you will share your story with someone. Ask them for what their favorite parts are and for things that don’t make sense. They may catch some grammar blunders, some glaring plotholes or elements of the story that don’t make sense. This is the time to do some rewrites and get a second or third draft in order as the story takes shape.
Beta readers: Like the alpha reader, this group is generally also unpaid and unprofessional, although some companies do offer this as a paid service. These readers are exactly what they sound like: they read through your story and offer opinions on what they liked or didn’t like about the plot and characters. Beta readers can be found through online advertisements, but they are most commonly found in writing groups and places that encourage group input. You can also offer to read through a fellow author’s work in exchange for their advice on your own composition. However you go about finding this second opinion on your work, remember that this person should not, ideally, be a close friend or family member. The feedback that you receive from this round of critiques will give you a little more insight into the reader’s perspective; you are not obligated to take action on these observations, but you will have a more well-rounded view of some things to incorporate into the next draft.
Developmental editors (these are also sometimes referred to as substantive, structural or content editors): After a few people have read your story and you have tweaked your novel as much as you can on your own, you may feel that you are ready for the services of a professional editor. When a developmental editor reads through your novel, they will not start with grammar and punctuation. They will first need to do what can be thought of as a “big-picture” edit: that is, they will make sure that the story itself makes sense. A developmental editor’s job is to make sure the plot is sound. Are there any plot holes that need to be curtailed? Do the characters stay true to their descriptions? Do you introduce someone who is too similar to someone else? What is the point or theme of the story? How is the pacing? Do you answer all the questions that you asked? Does a certain storyline veer off and disappear? Would something make more sense if it was moved to the end or brought forward to the middle? A developmental editor prunes the withered parts and encourages growth from the atrophied sections. He marks the portions that don’t make sense and he highlights the passages that are beautiful but obscured. He polishes away at your story so that you know how and where to reveal a hidden gem in the extraneous words.
Line Editors: When the dust settles from the developmental edit, the finer work of the line edit can begin. The line edit consists of cleaning up the structural bits. Is the piece readable in its current form? How are grammar, spelling and syntax? Are the meanings clear throughout? Are phrases authentic and as good as they can possibly be? Is the dialogue appropriate and are the tags correct? A line editor ensures proper word choice throughout and is responsible for checking minor plot inconsistencies. They must be on guard to check for repetition and to flag against inconsistencies. Sentence flow must be upheld and is a major responsibility of the line editor. Conciseness is encouraged and upheld.
Copy editors: The copy editor’s role is very similar to the line editor, and sometimes they can be combined. The roles often overlap at this stage in that the copy editor is also responsible for appropriate word choice, inconsistency and standard grammar, spelling and syntax checks. The copy editor’s role varies slightly in that they have more responsibility for catching the even finer details of punctuation, indentation, formatting, and paragraph and section breaks.
Proofreader: Many people confuse “proofreader” with “beta reader”, but really a proofreader is the final step before the manuscript goes to publication. This step is usually reserved for extremely meticulous authors, professional authors or people who intend to self-publish and want to ensure absolutely no mistakes in the process. The proofreader’s job includes some of the items on the copy editor’s list, such as making sure there are no glaring errors. Ideally, however, all of these steps have been taken prior to the manuscript reaching the proofreader. They should only be scanning for an errant punctuation mark here or there. Their job is mostly to check on formatting, the removal of extraneous spaces, to highlight stacked hyphens, to remove widows and orphans, to ensure the consistency of late additions of text and design elements, and the finest details of formatting that would guarantee the work is absolutely error free prior to print.
Ghostwriter: On the other end of the spectrum, a ghostwriter can be hired to clean up your text. This occurs when a person writes any portion of your story, up to and including all of it. They typically collect a fee for this service in exchange for allowing you to remain listed publicly as the author. Sometimes authors will have an idea for a story but don’t know how to execute the writing. In other cases, people will begin writing most or all of their story, but through the editing process they realize they can’t turn their story into a viable book. In these cases a ghostwriter can aid a client with 1) writing the entire story themselves after a series of interviews or 2) taking the already written material and editing it to such a degree that it is a fusion of the idea of the original author and the writing capabilities of the ghostwriter. The option to use a ghostwriter can almost be viewed as extreme editing and allows some people to have their stories told who would not otherwise have a chance to do so.
Editing is as unique as you are! I hope that this illuminates the choices available to you as you start your editing journey. The LetterWorks offers edits in all styles, and our editors have specialties in every kind of discipline listed here, so please don’t hesitate to think of us for your next big project. We are excited to help you as you work to hone your craft!