Many authors today are beginning to grasp the importance of having their book professionally edited before they upload it to Amazon, CreateSpace, Smashwords, or elsewhere. But what is editing, anyway? What can the author expect from the process?
A Three-Step Process
Some editors offer three steps, some four. The names for each step and what is included under those names also varies from editor to editor. But what doesn’t change is the fact that thorough, professional editing is best achieved in separate passes, each pass aiming to improve a different layer of the author’s writing.
Personally, I break my editing layers down as follows:
The Content Edit
This is the big-picture edit, or what I call the king of editing. On this level, the editor assesses large-scale issues. Does the plot maintain action, pace, and tension throughout? Are the characters well-developed? Do any plot holes need to be filled in? Do whole scenes need to be cut, combined, or rewritten? Is the story believable? Etc.
The Line Edit
Where the content edit addresses what you are saying, the line edit deals with how you say it. Do your sentences flow? Are they tight? Are your paragraphs split correctly? This is where music, style, word choice, sentence structure, and appealing language come into the picture.
What many authors think of as “editing” is really the proofread. It is only at the very end that the editor will address your grammar, spelling, and punctuation–the final touch.
Layer by Layer
Any editor worth his or her salt knows that a book is perfected in layers. You don’t spread the icing over the cake mix; you bake the batter first. Along those same lines, a content edit can’t be performed at the same time as a line edit, nor can a line edit be performed at the same time as a proofread.
Nor can the layers of editing be performed out of order. A full edit should be completed from content edit, to line edit, to proofread.
The reason is simple: There is no point in correcting your punctuation (proofread) if your entire sentence needs to be reworked (line edit.) Nor is there any point in correcting the flow of any particular sentence (line edit) if the entire scene needs to be rewritten or even cut from the book (content edit.) You will save both time and money by working through the layers of editing in their proper order, and one at a time.
Which Level of Editing Does My Book Need?
While the answer varies with every author and every book, most authors benefit from working through all three levels of editing, especially if you are a beginning author.
As a novice, you may be able to recognize whether your spelling is off or if you have a fairly sketchy understanding of punctuation and grammar. Years spent in elementary school, high school, and college may have made that apparent to you, since these skills are commonly taught in school.
But do you know how to maintain tension throughout your story–and can you recognize whether you have successfully done so? Do you know how to craft a likable hero with a fatal flaw–and have you done so? Do you know how to introduce backstory while maintaining forward momentum–and have you done so? Do you know how to use description to enhance characterization–and have you done so? Do you know how to use active voice and varied sentence structures–and have you done so?
It takes a dizzying array of techniques to craft a truly good story. (The above is a tiny sampling.) But even if the author is solid on his or her writing craft, most writers become extremely close to their work and can no longer recognize what’s on the page and what’s still stuck in their heads. That’s why every author should plan on proceeding through all levels of editing with their editor.
I offer full-service editing–content, line, and proofread. Feel free to get in touch so we can talk about your unique project!
~ Danielle Lincoln Hanna