Broad Swipe or Fine-Tooth Comb: What Type of Editing Do You Need?

Hi, I’m Susan Herman. I started freelance editing in 2007 after six years’ full time employment in the publishing industry. My business provides editing services for writers, book authors, and publishers. I focus on nonfiction and creative nonfiction.

Determining what type of edit you need can be confusing, not least because service providers use different terms to mean the same thing. Or, the same term to mean different things.

What I provide can be described as developmental editing, with some manuscript evaluation and substantive or line editing thrown in. Depending on the state of the manuscript I can also provide copyediting (it needs to be pretty polished by that point). You can find helpful definitions of these and related functions on the Editorial Freelancers Association site and Bay Area Editor’s Forum.

The question I help most clients with is: How do all the parts of your manuscript serve the whole? Said another way, How well do your organizational, presentation, and style choices serve your purpose in communicating—and how might you tweak your writing to BETTER serve your purpose?

Here’s a glimpse at how I might approach your work as one of my editing projects. I’ll write you a memo and make some notes in the manuscript using Track Changes or a similar method, covering the following points:

Does your writing serve a particular audience or target market?

Does your introductory material help readers decide: YES, this is for me!/NO, it’s not for me…?

Is it clear what readers will find in your work that they cannot find anywhere else?

Is there some kind of preview that tells readers what they will learn or be able to do when they’re finished?

Is your work written at the right reading level for your audience (e.g. scientists, teachers, techies, people with anxiety or other “triggers,” news skimmers, English language learners, teens)?

Do you need to focus or broaden the scope of your piece?

Can you distill your message into one or two sentences?

What is the heart of work—its main theme, its best points?

What’s the ideal length for a work of this type?

Which elements might be spun off into another volume or presented in a different way (appendix, sidebars, downloadable worksheets, an app, a blog)?

Where does your message begin and end, and will readers be able to follow its arc or logical flow?

How can your Table to Contents be both a map and a party invitation?

What order of presentation will be most effective for your message?

Are there holes in your plot or line of reasoning?

Are some parts presented in more or less detail than others?

How many chapters do you need? How many headings or other divisions within chapters?

Does the piece hold our attention throughout?

Where does your writing bog down and then pick up again?

How might any confusing parts be made clearer?

How well do your boxes, tables, photos, and art actually move the narrative forward?

Where are the repetitions or contradictions?

What’s your “writing voice” like?

Are your quotations working for you, or do they dilute what you’ve got to say?

Are you whimsical in the Table of Contents but suddenly no-nonsense on page 1?

Do your long and short sentences give a good mix of complexity and movement?

If you need to use a prescribed style (such as APA or Chicago), are you using it correctly and taking advantage of its best features?

Do certain word choices lend a tone to the work you didn’t intend?

Here’s what I don’t do.

Just to head off potential misunderstandings, here are some things I, as a freelance editor, do NOT provide: I do not “sign” authors or broker author contracts with publishers. I do not acquire book manuscripts for a publishing house or “shop” manuscripts around to those who want to buy print publishing rights, ebook rights, film rights, etc. Those functions belong to agents, publishers, and acquiring editors.

I do not transcribe or translate (good starting places to look for those services might include the Association of Personal Historians and the American Translators Association, respectively).

I do not provide cover design, interior book design, ebook formatting, typesetting, proofreading, printing, or marketing services. However, I can help you get started looking for these services if you need them! Also, I am active on Twitter and other social media and will happily put in a few plugs for your book.