Which comes first, line editing, copyediting, or proofreading?
Line editing, which improves the flow of your words, is performed before copyediting and proofreading. Copyediting is next, focusing on mechanics. Proofreading should be done at the last stage as a final cleanup.
Is editing a science or an art?
Great question! There are standard rules about grammar, punctuation, and the like that generally are to be followed. These are mechanical, so this component of editing is more of a science. But much of editing is subjective—e.g. “How do I recast this sentence so it flows more smoothly or is clearer?” That is the art part.
Also, style issues, like whether or not to use the Oxford comma, are not written in stone. Similarly, the voice and style of the piece play a role. Decisions depend not just on the hard and fast rules of grammar (which are not always so hard and fast), but on context, style, audience, and purpose as well. So in this sense, yes, editing is an art.
What are the different kinds of editing?
Developmental—Think big picture issues: organization, pacing, plot, tense, etc. For example: "Chapter Eight would fit better chronologically if it came before Chapter Seven." Or, "The paragraph about the blue elf at the drinking pond needs elaboration, as this is the source of its power throughout the book."
Line / Stylistic—The work is considered at a more zoomed-in level; e.g., word choice, meaning, wordiness, and syntax. The goal is not to fix all the mechanics (though many will be addressed along the way), but instead it is to improve the flow. For example: "Consider breaking the previous sentence into two sentences so it is less cumbersome." Or, editing "in the line of his lineage" to "in his lineage" for conciseness. Or, "Rather than using fragrance in reference to cows, consider the word smell or scent, as fragrance generally has a positive connotation." Line editing is my focus, but I also address many copyediting issues.
Copyediting—This deals with mechanical errors such as grammar and punctuation, as well as consistency. The copyeditor also checks for adherence to a style manual (e.g. Chicago or AP). It can get very nit-picky. For example, knowing when to spell out numbers and when to use numerals. Or, correcting the British use of "colour" to "color" for a U.S. audience. Or, deleting commas, correcting a misspelled word, placing punctuation inside or outside parentheses or quotes. I do quite a lot of this type of editing even while I am focusing on line editing.
Proofreading—This is a mechanical edit for clear mistakes. It is not intended to improve the prose, just fix blatant errors. Proofreading is done late in the game. For example: fixing widows and orphans, correcting a heading, fixing a spelling error. The purpose of a proofread is to catch any errors that fall through the cracks, that are introduced through the query process, or that are created during the formatting/layout stage. I highly recommend a last-stage proofread for every manuscript, regardless of how many types of edits have already been done.This is standard practice.
Do I need all these levels of editing? Do you do them all?
The more editing levels your budget can accommodate, the better. After editing, proofreads are a must—this gives your piece one final cleanup.
Can’t I just get my friends to edit my book?
Well, sure. Insomuch as you can have your friends work on your car when it is broken down. If they have the appropriate experience and training, terrific! If not, they will not have the proper skills or tools to do more than tinker. And if it is big job, you wouldn’t think about asking them to do it for free, would you? Usually when we need car maintenance, we take the vehicle to a professional mechanic, someone with experience, skill, expertise, and the right tools. Your book deserves the same level of attention and professionalism.
Will my book be error-free?*
My goal is to help you improve your writing and make it flow more smoothly (not to make it 100% technically perfect—even a copyeditor or proofreader cannot guarantee that*). After your edit is complete, you should find the flow of your writing much improved, though your voice will be intact. In fact, because your prose will be better, your voice will be enhanced!
What is the Oxford comma?
“She praised the senator, her boyfriend and her brother.”
“She praised the senator, her boyfriend, and her brother.”
The first version does not have an Oxford comma (also called a series comma). It could be interpreted to mean that the senator is both her boyfriend and her brother. That’s a bit disturbing. The second version makes clear that she praised three different people: the senator, her boyfriend, and her brother.
I am a strong believer in the Oxford comma. It provides clarity and consistency. The Chicago Manual of Style, which I follow, holds to the Oxford comma, as does Oxford University Press. That said, it is a matter of style, so it is not inviolable. The Associated Press's style guide and the Times's stylebook discourage the Oxford comma in general. So, if you feel strongly against it, and your writing is consistent and clear without it, I will defer to your preferred style.
Interestingly, the Oxford comma was actually responsible for a five-million dollar settlement in a dairy court case.
What Reference Guides Do You Use?
Are you a stickler for your reference guides? Will you override my style?
If your style is consistent, clear, and grammatically correct, there is probably no reason to override it. Keep in mind there are different versions of “correct” depending on which style guide or dictionary you consult and which type of English you prefer (e.g. American English “color” versus British English “colour”). It also depends on context; you may quote a dialect that is not standard English but has internally consistent rules.
My primary goals are readability and internal consistency. That doesn’t always require strict adherence to a style manual.
What are libel and privacy issues, and do I need to be concerned?
Libel is written defamation. Verbal defamation is slander. Defamation damages someone’s reputation. When you portray someone in a negative light in your book, you may be at risk of committing libel. This is true for fictional characters who may resemble someone in real life; for example, a lawyer who embezzles from his firm and whose physical description sounds an awful lot like your sister’s attorney ex-boyfriend. This risk diminishes if you have no parallel identifying details (name, physical description, type of car, career, etc.) and/or if the portrayal is true and provable; for example, said real-life attorney went to prison for this crime, making it public knowledge.
Privacy is similar with regard to risk, but it has to do with revealing personal information about someone that they might not want revealed. For example, if someone is an alcoholic, perhaps that is provable, but that doesn’t mean the information can be made public without legal repercussions.
Of course, I am not an attorney, so don’t take my word for it. Ask a lawyer. And while you wait for the lawyer to get back to you, pick up a used copy of The Copyright Permission and Libel Handbook by Jassin and Schecter. It’s an interesting read. Also check out The Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook by Sedwick and The Writer’s Legal Guide by Crawford and Murray.
Should I be concerned about copyright?
If you use anyone else’s work in your manuscript in any way, you may need to be concerned about copyright. Even if you paraphrase, you may to credit the original source. If you quote someone directly, you may need to attribute the source. And just because you quote someone directly does not mean you can necessarily quote as much material as you want. For example, you cannot quote an entire song (or even half a song) without permission from the copyright holder. Just as someone else cannot quote an entire chapter from your book without permission from you.
Fair use doctrine is a good thing to know about. Here is a helpful summary.
See above question for related books.
How will I know if you are a good fit for me?
When I return your sample edit, you will have a clear picture of what I can do to help you make your writing better.
Do you ever turn down an author? Is there anything you won’t edit?
Sure, I will turn down an author if I see that we are not a good fit. For example, maybe there is specialized knowledge that I don’t have that is needed for a strong edit of a particular work. Or, maybe topics arise that I choose not to edit, such as graphic and gratuitous violence, anything with unresolved copyright or libel concerns, or anything hateful. Opinions that are different from mine are fine—I strive to keep my editing objective.
What is Track Changes in Word?
I’m glad you asked! It’s a tool that a lot of editors and writers use to track all edits made to a document, and it is a great option for us to use. Changes show up either inline with the text and/or off to the side. Comments and queries show up in a sidebar. An author can see exactly what changes an editor has made and can accept or reject the changes one by one or all at once.
If you are not familiar with this feature, spend a little time practicing with it—it will be a powerful tool as you work with your edited manuscript!
Each version of Word will be a little different, but these videos give a great introduction to the feature: