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Levels of Editing

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If you’re hiring an editor to look at your manuscript, it’s important to understand that there are a variety of editorial services available to you. They range from providing help to develop a book concept to polishing a fully formed work. All levels of editing are not typically done concurrently, and editors generally specialize.

When you’re self-editing, you won’t draw lines between levels of editing. It’s a fluid process. But when you hire an editor, you want to be sure to find someone who is proficient in the kind of editing your manuscript requires. For example, if you’re still unsure about issues like plot or character development, you want to hire an editor who knows how to give you big-picture feedback. And it would be a waste of money and effort to have your manuscript copyedited when it is—or should be—still in a state of flux.

Here are some definitions of editorial skills:

Developmental Editing
  • Provides big-picture direction to help the author form a vision for the book (may include market research)\
  • Suggests content and organization
  • May suggest restructuring of a manuscript
  • Coaches the author to ensure that vision is successfully executed
Content Editing
  • Provides detailed notes in the form of a “manuscript evaluation” or “editorial letter”
  • In fiction, addresses big-picture issues such as plot, setting, characters, pacing, point of view, style, and appropriateness for genre
  • In nonfiction, addresses clarity, clear and logical flow of your ideas, consistency, style, and effectiveness for genre
Substantive & Stylistic (Line) Editing
  • Editor works directly on the manuscript
  • Clarifies or organizes and presentation of content
  • Flags or suggests rewrites at the chapter, paragraph, and sentence levels
  • Focuses on mechanical issues including: spelling, grammar, punctuation, syntax, and word usage, while preserving the meaning and voice of the original text
  • Checks for and imposes consistent style and facts
  • Prepares a style sheet that documents style and formatting decisions
  • May do fact-checking
  • Checks proofs of an edited manuscript.

Terminology varies and these definitions are not comprehensive. They are meant to help you think about the kind of editing your manuscript might need and are a starting point as you search for an editor who can help you achieve your vision for your work.

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Follow Mary Ann de Stefano:

writer, editor, website designer

Mary Ann is the editor of The Florida Writer (the official magazine of the Florida Writers Association) and MAD’s Monday Muse. She is also a writer, editor, and organizer of writing workshops with 30+ years' experience in publishing and writing consulting. Besides working one-to-one with writers who are developing books, she designs author websites. Website

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5 Responses

  1. Charles Gilbert
    | Reply

    Hello Mary ann. I am an aspiring author. Nothing published as yet. Please describe to me an “Author Website and how it may be useful to me in getting my work out to the world once completed.

    • Mary Ann de Stefano
      | Reply

      Hi Charles, When you publish a book, if you want it to sell, you have to also become an entrepreneur. Even authors who are published traditionally need to participate in marketing their books. Today, all businesses need an online presence. For authors, a well-designed, professional website is critical tool for interesting and agent or publisher, promoting their books , building their visibility and image as an author, and connecting with & engaging readers. Publishers, agents, readers, other authors, and the media will check for a website.

  2. Sheldon Bander
    | Reply

    Mary Ann, I am an unpublished author, I have a work of about 103,000 words. I would like to self-publish and need help it putting it into book format for this purpose. I am also an old man and I am not truly computer literate.At 88 I do not have time, nor money to get involved as i should. I wrote this book in 2010-2011 and I have applied for a copywriter that supposedly will arrive in December. I would like someone that would be interested in working with me. Suggestions? Thank you, Sheldon Bander

  3. Mary Ann de Stefano
    | Reply

    Hi Sheldon, I am primarily an editor, and you need editing assistance, please contact me through my website. (The link is in orange in my bio above.) If your book is ready for publication, there are many options open to you, and many choices to make. Here’s a link to an article that explains those options: https://www.janefriedman.com/self-publish-your-book/ There are always costs involved. I hope this helps.

  4. Ray Darby
    | Reply

    Mary Ann,
    I am also an unpublished writer. Who/where do I locate good editor? How much should I pay??? I see a lot of them on the internet, however, I am at a loss.
    I notice that Mr. Sheldon Bander has applied for a copy writer. Is that Important before I start sending out copies of my work.

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