Different Kinds of Editing and Different Kinds of Editors

Here’s part of George’s email: “I’m confused. I’m done writing my book and I know I need a professional editor. But what kind? What’s the difference between a developmental editor, a content editor, a copy editor, and a proofreader? Help!”

When I was cutting my teeth as a young writer, things were straightforward. Editors worked for publishers. Their job was to make your manuscript better. Like many things, though, things have changed in the Age of Self-Publishing.

There are still editors who work for publishing companies, but there are lots of freelance editors, too. Even some of the editors working for publishers are freelancers. And in wonderful gig economy fashion, the freelancers get to describe their work with whatever title they choose.

What follows is my interpretation of how this all works and a suggestion about how you can find the kind of editor you need.

Two Kinds of Editing

After reflecting on my own experience and explaining how things work to clients, I decided there are two basic kinds of editing.

Some editors exercise judgement. Judgement editing is where the editor renders an opinion. It’s characterized by phrases like “I think you should…” and “This might be better if…”

The other kind of editing is rule-based editing. Rule-based editing applies a certain standard to your manuscript. Rule-based editing makes sure that your manuscript uses standard English conventions, like subject and verb agreement. Rule-based editing makes sure that you follow the dictates of a style sheet. This is not a matter of opinion. If the style sheet for your publisher or that you’ve agreed upon with your editor calls for you to write out the word “percent” instead of using the percent sign (%), that’s what you do. All the time.

You can get a sense of the difference when you consider the use of the Oxford comma. An editor using judgement might suggest that you use or don’t use the Oxford comma. A style sheet, like the AP style sheet that journalists use, has a rule about the Oxford comma. A rule-based editor will follow the rule in the style sheet. He or she will follow whatever you’ve agreed upon as the rule. In other words, judgement-based editing might suggest that you use an Oxford comma, and once you’ve agreed to it, rule-based editing makes sure you do it all the time.

Kinds of Editors

There are lots of different names that various freelancers use to describe what they do. For me, editors (the people) fall into three groups.

Developmental editors look at the entire manuscript and make suggestions about structure and sequence. This is pure judgement editing. Developmental editors work before the manuscript is complete. In fact, the earlier the better. Developmental editors are sometimes called “content editors” or “book doctors.” I do developmental editing for most of my clients.

Copy editors usually tackle the manuscript after it’s complete but before the interior design for the book is done. Copy editors use a mix of judgment and rule-based editing. One editor I use regularly requires that I decide what style sheet to use with the option of creating my own. Then, we follow the dictates of the style sheet. But she also makes suggestions about structure and sequence. It’s all part of the service she offers.

Proofreaders are the last kind of editor to touch a manuscript. They usually swing into action after the copy editors are done and the interior design is done. Then, the proofreader goes through the manuscript as it will appear in the book. Proofreading is pure rule-based editing. A proofreader may ask a question to clarify what you want, but he or she does not normally make suggestions about overall manuscript structure and sequence.

Picking the Right Editor for You

You’re most likely to get a book you’re proud of if you use both kinds of editing.

Many authors don’t hire a developmental editor. But they have a friend of colleague who performs a developmental editorial function. People who hire me to work on their book sometimes hire me at the very beginning of the process and somewhere towards the end of the actual writing. Whatever works for you will work for me or another professional developmental editor.

Self-publishing authors who want to get the best book possible hire copy editors and proofreaders. Sometimes, those editors come as part of the service of an author’s services company. Sometimes, you hire them directly.

If you do hire a copy editor or proofreader directly, the best way to find out if they can work with you effectively is to audition them. This will cost you some money, but it’s worth it.

Visit the site for the Editorial Freelancers Association, solicit recommendations from friends who’ve used editors, and do a little web searching. Narrow the list of the people you think may work for you down to a manageable number. In my experience, that should be about three of each.

Give the people you’re considering the same large chunk of your manuscript to work with. Make sure they know what you expect of them. Then, turn them loose on your manuscript. They should spend an hour doing their editing or proofreading. Review the quality of their work. Will it help you produce a book that you can be proud of? Think about the relationship. Are they easy to work with? Did they produce their work on time and in accordance with your standards? Are you comfortable with them? Skill level doesn’t matter if the chemistry is off.

If your head says, “They have great skills” but your gut says, “Yeah, but,” go with your gut.

The Takeaways

Editors can make you look good and save you from embarrassment. They can help you create a book you’re proud of.

You will need both judgment editing and rule-based editing if you want the best possible book.

Judge potential editors by their work and work style, not their title. Have them work on a sample of your manuscript and pay them for their time.

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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

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