Along with cover design, professional editing is a service no indie author can afford to skimp on.
Beta reading, proofreading, copy-editing, line editing, content editing, structural editing – what do these terms mean, and do we indie authors really need to worry about all that? The short answer is YES, especially if you want to present your story in the best possible light.
Whew! You’ve finally completed that manuscript you’ve been slaving over, or lovingly bringing to life (whatever your process is). You can now crack your knuckles, sit back and relax, maybe even take a nap, because the hard part is over. Right?
There are still many things to be done before your book is ready to be published. One of the most important of these is editing.
As I mentioned above, there are many different aspects and levels to editing. Unless you are a trained and practiced editor, there may be things you will miss if you try to do all the editing yourself. Even if you are a trained editor, it is difficult for an author to edit their own work, since we know what we mean and where we are coming from. It is difficult to step back and look at our work from an unbiased perspective to see if there are sections that are unclear, repetitive, out of place, and so on. This is where having a third-party, unbiased and professional editor comes in.
Some questions you may be asking now are: What do all those editing terms mean, anyway? How much does editing cost? How long will the editing process take?
The answers to these questions depend on the length of your book, the level of editing you require and how polished, or self-edited, your book is before submitting it to a professional editor. It also depends on the qualifications and experience level of your chosen editor, and that editor’s workload.
Is it important starting out to have a deep understanding of what each of the above editing terms means? No, not really. But you should know enough to understand what you are signing up for when you hire an editor and to make your expectations clear. Also, if your budget is tight, you can decide on what you can do yourself and what you really need an objective, professional eye for.
Though the terminology might differ a little from source to source and between fiction and non-fiction, here are some basic explanations for the types/levels of editing you may require:
- Beta reading
I consider beta-reading to be a stage in the editing process and prefer to have it done early, soon after my first draft is complete – or second, depending on how I feel about my manuscript.
When hiring a beta reader, it is important to clearly outline your expectations for them. I tell my beta readers to read the novel as they would read any book and take note of places where the pace moves too fast or too slow, sections they were tempted to skip over, and any obvious plot holes. Also, were there any sections that didn’t make sense, or that did not seem to fit with the genre or story? Are there sections or scenes that just didn’t seem to work for them?
You could get friends and family to beta read for you, and I do. But I also pay people who beta read professionally and know what they are looking for. Getting friends and family to beta read your work might be budget friendly, but unless they are fans of your specific genre and know what they are looking for, there is no guarantee of how useful their feedback will be.
The main reason I get beta reading done early, before I get into the heavy editing, is in case there is useful feedback I can incorporate in my revisions. You don’t want to go through the time, effort, and cost of editing scenes that you will end up cutting or changing, for example.
- Story Level / Structural editing
I start with the bigger picture, the story level or structural editing. This is a good place to start because, like with the beta-reading, you might decide there are sections or scenes that do not work for what you are trying to achieve, or sections that need to be reworked. If you do your sentence or scene level edits first on sections that you end up deciding to cut when you get to your story level edits, then you’ve just wasted time, effort and possibly cash.
This level is a big-picture look at your work. Does it have a beginning, middle, and end? Is there a beginning hook, rising action, climax and resolution? Are there scenes that have no real purpose and do not move the story forward? Did you choose the correct character as your protagonist? Is your character development and world-building detailed without dumping information on readers in a way that will lose their interest? Do you “show” the readers more often than you “tell” them?
- Scene level / content editing
In this level, editors will go through each scene and ask: Does this scene have a beginning, middle and end? Is there a beginning hook, rising action, a climax and a resolution (this should be the case both at the story level and at the scene level)? Does the scene move the story forward? Is there conflict in each scene? And so on and so on.
- Sentence level / line editing / copyediting
Regardless of the term used for this level of editing, it involves looking at your story line by line, or sentence by sentence. Here, editors will look at sentence structure, spelling, grammar and punctuation. This is the level that should be done last because, again, you don’t want to spend a lot of time, effort and/or money inspecting and dissecting sentences or lines that you are just going to end up cutting or changing down the line.
Proofreading is the inspection that takes place just before a manuscript is about to be published. It is a very close look at your story. Proofreaders look for any mistakes or problems that may have been missed earlier in the editing process. Like copyediting (and some may use the terms interchangeably), the focus is on grammar, spelling, punctuation and capitalization.
Proofreading is important because, in a novel of 90,000 words or more, for example, it is easy for little things to slip through. I personally have self-edited manuscripts numerous times, had them edited by a professional, and have still caught mistakes after all that.
If you are an indie author, hiring a professional editor is undoubtedly the way to go. When you are writing your first (and each subsequent) work that you wish to publish, make sure you budget some funds to cover editing.
You can easily find beta-readers and editors online and through social media. Here are a few sites to get you started:
To learn more about editing your own work, see the links below, which are sites/programs I have used to help me become a better editor and writer, and which have a lot of useful information on editing:
The Story Grid: