Tag s | Editing

What an Editor Does: Peeling Back the Layers

Okay, as we launch into the next few weeks of looking at what editors do, here are a few basics to remember:

1. We are, for the purposes of this blog, talking about Freelance Editors. Not show who work at publishing houses.

2. Editors are, in essence, coaches. They won’t rewrite your book for you, but they will pinpoint areas you need to refine. Some will go back and forth with you, until they’re sure you’ve got the issues licked. Some just provide you with the map to refining your craft. But the revision and rewrites are up to the writer.

3. Editors won’t necessarily make your book publication-ready. Not by themselves. If you want a book that’s going to be as clean as possible when it’s published, it’s a good idea to have it copyedited and proofread as well.

Now, many editors offer varied kinds of edits. It would seem, at first blush, easy to determine what kind of edit you want an editor to perform on your manuscript.


Why not? Because a rose isn’t a rose isn’t a rose. For those of you not familiar with Gertrude Stein and her poem, what I mean is not all editors use the same terminology. What one calls a sub edit others call a line edit, and what one calls a macro edit, others call a comprehensive critique. So let’s take a look at the list of most common types of edits, and the varied terms for them:

Critique—Generally, most editors agree on this one. A critique is where the editor takes an agreed-upon portion of your manuscript, reads it, and lets you know what issues they see. The editor’s work is done when he sends you the written critique.

Macro edit. This is a little trickier. Some call this an Editorial Review, others call it a Big-Picture Edit or even a Comprehensive Critique. For this blog, we’ll go with Macro Edit. With a Macro edit, the editor reads your entire manuscript, pinpointing the Big-Picture issues such as:

Fiction: Plot, Character development, Flow, Dialogue, Show vs. Tell, Tense, POV, Voice (author or character), and so on.

Nonfiction: Flow, organization, voice, clarity, arc, soundness of message and delivery, and so on.

The result of the Macro edit is a Revision Letter, which is sent to the author as a guide for revising and rewriting. The editor’s work is done when she sends the revision letter to the author. At the bottom of this blog is an example of a “Revision Letter.” (see below)

Substantive (or Sub) edit. Another multiple-personality edit also known as a Line Edit, Line-by-Line Edit, Developmental edit, and Complete edit. (Long ago, when I first started as an editor, back in the days of working with an actual red pen, this was also called the Red-Line edit. And when we cut and paste back then, we used scissors and tape!) In the Sub edit, the editor goes through the manuscript, line by line, entering edits and comments in the manuscript itself. Generally, the marked-up manuscript goes back to the author for review and revisions, and then the author sends it back to the editor to finalize the files. The editor’s job is done when they send the clean, author-approved, edited files back to the author. And example of this “Marked-up Manuscript” is the screen-shot photo at the top of this blog. (see above – click on the picture to see it full size.)

Full edit. This is what some editors call it when they do both the Macro and the Sub edits on your manuscript. Aliases include Complete edit and Comprehensive edit. Once the author has revised the manuscript according to the Macro’s Revision Letter, then the clean manuscript comes back to the editor. The editor then dives in, doing the hands-on line-by-line work, and from there the process and the editor’s involvement are the same as for the Sub edit.

So, those are the most common edits and terms. Are you seeing the potential issues here? Saying, “I want a Complete edit,” to your editor may not mean what you think it means. So how do you make yourself clear? First, check the editor’s website. With any luck, the editor defines the kinds of edits he or she performs. If not, then when you contact the editor, explain what you want, and then ask, “What would you call that kind of edit?” That way you know you’re both on the same page.

So those are the basics of what an editor does when editing. Next week we’ll dig a little deeper.





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