This seems to be so confusing.
Writers contact me all the time, pretty much using these terms interchangeably:
And if you look at the plethora of editors’ sites these days, the confusion deepens, as it’s pretty difficult to tell exactly what these folks actually do. It looks as if the three disciplines are all linked together into one: Editing.
The truth is, all three are very different. All are vitally necessary but separate things.
So, let’s make it simple.
Long ago in the ancient days of yore, all 3were done at a traditional publishing house, in the order listed, once the first American serial rights to publish your book were bought.
Now, of course, the vast majority of books are self-published, and often none of this gets done. Which is quite apparent when perusing most of them!
And now at Traditional houses, a book needs to be pretty much camera-ready to even be looked at.
Times, as they say, have changed.
So what are the differences in the 3 types of editing, and what do you need for your book?
֎ Developmental editing comes first. It’s by far the most comprehensive, detailed, and time consuming, and all manuscripts need it.
Gasp, I hear you say! But I’ve yet to see the manuscript that didn’t need developmental editing, and my editor friends at major NY houses say the same thing. Even these days as they trust the agents who represent the authors whose work they buy, the first question before even taking a look is: “Is it ready to go?”
I had that happen recently with one of my editorial clients. Randy’s novel sold to Kensington, on a two-book deal. He’d told the editor he had worked with me on book one, and the editor put in a clause that said book two had to go through me as well.
That was a nice thing 🙂
What developmental editing is in a nutshell is the storyline and characters as a whole—the forest and the trees, if you will. It’s whether the characters are fully fleshed out, real, well-rounded people. Do they hold together? Does the Protagonist go through the arc of the storyline, growing, changing, while still holding together? Do any other viewpoint characters do so as well?
Does the plot influence the characters? Do the characters drive the plot?
Do the plot and storyline hold together? I.e., beginning, middle and end, with well-thought out plot points to move the story along, in the proper sequence? Do major plot points occur where they’re supposed to?
Is the book the proper length for its category and sub-category? Does it fit all the specs?
Does the prose sing? Do the voice and tone fit the genre?
Developmental editing is about characterization, plotting and pacing, organization and structure, flow, voice and tone, all literary devices and stylistic elements, and overall substance. And how all of that fits together into one piece.
And it’s about going back and forth with your editor, as you go through revisions.
֎ Copy editing, on the other hand, deals with grammar and spelling and syntax and punctuation. It should address clunky prose as well, but that gets somewhat hazy, as a true copy edit isn’t really about the prose (except where grammatical, et al, errors come into play).
A hard copy edit is always in order—after the developmental edit, and all the revisions that go along with that.
֎ The final step in the process is the proofing. This is usually done once the manuscript has been converted into a publishing file, as often errors occur just through the conversion process itself. But proofing is about cleaning up typos, etc., and by then, not much else. This step, too, is crucial, because by then, the writer can’t see the errors anymore. Once you’ve gone over a manuscript 1,500 times, your eye reads what’s supposed to be there, rather than what actually is.
So all 3 steps in this process are vital. But again, in order, and with thorough editors along the way.
Then you’ll have the best book possible to go out and market and hopefully, become a bestseller!