All done in Microsoft Word using Track Changes.

Copyediting (Polishing)

A nuts-and-bolts exercise done when the work is complete and ready for submission or production. Copyediting involves minimal touching of text by the editor, and focuses on clarity, consistency, and comprehension while preserving author voice. It includes checking spelling, grammar, syntax, and punctuation, also light fact checking and sometimes formatting. Queries may flag the author’s pet words or patterns, or phrasing that creates unintentional effects or reader distraction. The editor generally performs the edit in one round then returns the manuscript to the author, who accepts/rejects the changes and moves on.

Substantive/line editing (Refining)

Line-by-line attention to language and flow of a manuscript that is essentially complete but still in process. Substantive editing includes the basic t-crossing and i-dotting of copyediting but expands to embrace content, analyzing and revising text at the sentence and paragraph levels while still preserving author voice. Queries may address narrative arc, viewpoint, pacing, theme, genre conventions, scene logistics, and character development. No editorial rewriting is done beyond minor cutting or consolidating, transition smoothing, or paragraph resequencing for clarity. The editor generally performs the edit in one round and returns the manuscript to the author, who either accepts/rejects the changes and moves on, or further revises based on the editorial feedback. Follow-up revision checking or copyediting are separate transactions.

Developmental editing (Building)

The roll-up-your-sleeves-and-dig-in process that embraces a work’s overall concept, flow, and structure early in the writing (or midway if it’s stuck). Developmental editing is the most hands-on work by the editor, and the most interactive collaboration between editor and author; it takes the most time, costs the most money, and has the most profound impact on an author’s work. Developmental editing generally requires at least two rounds of backing and forthing, with the author expected to rewrite sections, sometimes even recast the whole work. Subsequent refinement and polish editing are separate transactions, usually done by different people.

Manuscript evaluation (Overview)

A technical critique of the work and writing. No editing, just analyzing the complete manuscript then composing a report that includes examples from the text to illustrate each point, as well as an overall analysis that includes suggestions on how to proceed to the next stage along with recommended resources. It’s an economic way around developmental editing for authors who seek to do their own revising. It often helps an author tighten up a manuscript enough to go straight to copyediting.

See here for an in-depth interview I participated in about editing. Now a bit dated in its links and references, it remains a thorough conversation with content that holds true today.

And here for my “Thinking Fiction” guest essays on the business of editing blog, An American Editor.

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