When you’re looking for the right editor, the choices can boggle the mind.
So many editors populate the Internet now that it can sure be tough to sort through. It’s kinda like when you look through the Writer’s Guide to agents, et al, and it appears as if all agents handle everything.
Okay, so it’s not that bad, but almost. And as with agents—all of whom specialize in certain genres and categories and sub-categories, and all of whom sell to certain niches and houses and editors—free-lance editors all do different things.
It’s enough to make a writer pull out her hair.
But the differences in developmental editing and proof reading? They’re planets apart. The Alpha and the Omega, if you will.
Because developmental editing is the first stage of the process, and proofing is the last. And books need both.
Once a manuscript is finished (hopefully revised 59 times and then polished and the writer has brought it to the highest level of his ability), the next step is a true, hard, in-depth edit.
This is where we dive into the intricacies of plot and structure, of pacing and conflict. This is where we delve into the depths of characterization, whether the people play their parts or deviate (which is sometimes a wonderful thing, and sometimes not). This is where we hone the voice (not change it).
Do the characters hold together? Or do they completely change their spots? Are they fully realized human beings? Are they interesting or fall flat? Most importantly, are they real to the reader? Do they come alive?
Is the plot properly structured? I.e., does it have a definable beginning, middle, and end? Or does the middle sag and slog? Does the story take forever in the set up and rush to the end? (I see these problems literally every day.)
Do the characters influence the plot, and the plot drive the characters? This is tricky to maintain, but an absolute must. In the end they’re like the yin/yang symbol—impossible to separate. And why would you want to?
Are we filled with scenes that don’t have parts of the story question? I.e., bogged down in superfluous action and dialogue and although this may be filled with beautiful prose, it just doesn’t matter to the story and characters?
Every single scene must further the storyline and character development, with a piece of the story question smack in its center.
Does the climax (hopefully with unforeseen twists) fit the rest of the book? Or will the reader feel tricked? Cold Mountain comes to mind here. Yep, a beautifully told long and winding story, about which I’ve never felt more tricked in the end!
Do the prose and pacing fit the genre? This is vastly more important than it seems. The prose and even the voice and tone are quite different for the Romance categories than for the Thriller ones (and even within the sub-categories, the pacing and voice diverge).
Does the voice sing? Or is it clunky and cumbersome? Or even infelicitous, as NY editors are fond of saying.
All of that (and so much more) gets addressed in a developmental edit.
And then comes the revision process, which itself is involved and another long and winding road, where the writer bounces off of the editor as she goes, working to understand all the elements of writing great fiction and applying it to her book.
On it goes.
What may seem quite daunting in the beginning becomes a beautiful process as the book itself gets reshaped, the characters bursting into life, and the prose honed to a clear symphony of linked-together words.
All in the writer’s voice. A true edit doesn’t ever seek to change that, but just to make it better.
And where the writer himself learns and grows and prospers.
Not until the very end—when all is perfect in manuscript world—do you go to the proofing stage.
Proofing is just that—an edit for typos and misspellings and sometimes grammatical inconsistencies (although this is usually handled in the copy-edit stage, between the two edits above).
Does your book need to be proofed before publication? Absolutely!
But first and foremost, begin with step one—a good, hard, deep developmental edit.