What Is The Difference Between Editors + How Many Do You Need?
Editing is a big deal, right? You want your manuscript to be as flawless and polished as possible. From self editing to copy editors, there seems like a million different ways to come down on a manuscript. But what kind of editing do you really need? How many different types of editing is right to make your book as perfect as possible?
I've worked with a bunch of different kinds of editors, some with better results than others. That's part of the struggle: every story is unique, every writer is unique, and no one interprets content in the same way. This can be a blessing, though, because getting separate sets of eyes on your work will provide you with extremely valuable information: how your work is perceived generally and universally.
So, what kind of editor do you need? In order to decide that, let's take a look at the different types.
Content editors are your story editors. They focus on plot, keeping an eye out for inconsistencies and making sure your conflicts are relevant to your end game. They pay attention to characterization and voice to ensure that the actions and dialogue are in keeping with the character you established at the beginning of your story. They evaluate your setting for richness and realism or accuracy. If you've invented a world, that world needs to be believable and content editors help to point out the holes in your world. You could call content editors the "big picture" editors of the bunch.
On the more technical end of the spectrum are your copy editors. They're your guys for grammar, punctuation, and formatting. In some cases, copy editors will also fact check. When you're writing nonfiction, particularly historical nonfiction or biographies, there are are separate research editors that will help to make sure your content is factual and as accurate as possible. In fiction, a couple examples of copy editors fact checking come from the second editor I worked with for Bewilderments of the Eyes: the editor I was using pointed out believability facts such as Los Angeles natives not being "walkers", and sunset not occurring when I claimed in my story.
Proofreaders and editors are not the same thing. Editors are going to deep dive into your story searching out inaccuracies, errors, and issues. Proofreaders come in after the editor, read your manuscript the way a reader would, and point out anything missed during edits. Any remaining errors that a reader could pick up, a proofreader is going to catch. You know how sometimes you'll be reading a book, oftentimes published by a major publisher, and come across punctuation, spelling, or grammatical errors? Those are the things a proofreader is supposed to catch. Editors are only human, after all, and reading so carefully is, ironically, bound to leave room for mishaps. A proofreader is one example of ways to catch those mishaps.
Beta Readers/Family & Friends
Beta readers are your test run, essentially. They are not professionals, per se, but avid readers or even just willing readers who you offer your book to for free before publication in exchange for feedback. Feedback can consist of direct critiques back to you via a form or email, etc. or feedback can constitute a review on Amazon, Goodreads, their blog, or anywhere else. Beta readers are a good idea because, again, they are reading your book as readers. They are your audience. What they see in your book, others will most likely see as well. Personally, I think it's a good idea to ask both strangers and family/friends to beta read your book. It'll offer unique perceptions from people who have a reason to look for the best in your book, and people who don't (more on the pros + cons of close editors in a future post- keep an eye out!)
With beta readers, simply give them your book. Try not to give your beta readers specific things to look for or voice your concerns with your manuscript. You want their opinion as a reader, not an editor.
A critique partner is usually a fellow writer that you've struck up a deal with: you critique each others' work as you write. You can work chapter by chapter, or send your work between each other more or less often. Critique partners help you stay on track and help you make sure that everything lines up as you write so that there is less to go back and fix at the end. They will point out things that are tough for you as the author to see while you're so deeply invested. Having a critique partner is a great idea because, before getting down to the details, it is beneficial to ensure that the overall arc and premise of your story is entertaining, enjoyable, and plausible. Is your critique partner taking from your story what you intended? If issues come up here, the beauty of sharing your work periodically is that you can catch it before you go too much further. This will save you time and money in revisions when working with actual editors.
Again, the term partner implies that you offer the same courtesies to whoever is critiquing your work.
The types of editors necessary will vary based on your story. It's safe to say that copy editors are always needed, but it's not safe to say that copy editors will always be separate from content editors. In some cases editors will claim to do it all- you will need to decide if you are comfortable with that or if you want specialists. The order in which you assign editors will also depend on the nature of your story and your personal preferences. It makes logical sense to establish a critique partner at the start of your writing journey rather than halfway through or especially once you've finished writing. But do you want to contact beta readers under the caveat that you haven't yet had your work edited for grammatical errors in order to make sure that your plot is in order before hiring a content editor? Or do you want to pay for editing, do all of your major revisions, and then open opinions to others?
At the end of the day, it's all up to you and what you think makes the most sense for your WIP. If you have questions about my editing process and recommendations, always feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Until next time,