I have a first draft, but I have no idea if it's any good. No one has seen it yet, so I'm looking for first-impressions feedback. Are there any issues with my plot? Are my characters likable? Are people actually willing to read this?
Okay, you've written a draft. Now what?
You need to take the leap and get it in front of people!
First, you should look into an alpha reader, or someone who reads your very first draft and provides feedback regarding the overall story's impact, i.e., where it triumphed and where it needs work. I also recommend seeking out critique partners and critique groups—fellow writers with whom you trade stories and swap writing tips—on social media (there are soo many Facebook groups you can join).
Then, you seek beta readers—a handful of people, not necessarily other authors, who read your complete and mostly polished draft. They can be friends and family, strangers on the internet. Think of these readers as "focus groups"; they're your last-ditch effort to tidy up errors before sending off your manuscript to an editor (or authenticity reader: see below).
You, of course, can seek out beta readers for free, but the writing community is trending toward receiving payment in exchange for beta reads; after all, you're asking someone to take the time to read your draft and provide feedback. The benefit to hiring a professional editor to beta read means you're getting someone who knows what they're talking about.
Okay, Kitty. I've gone to beta readers and critique groups, and I've implemented their feedback. Next comes editing, right?
Sometimes, writers can greatly benefit from something called a sensitivity read (I think authenticity read is more appropriate). Sensitivity readers are a specific type of beta reader who read your manuscript for authentic interpretations of:
1. Careers or lifestyles
e.g., You're writing about a character in the U.S. Army who is diagnosed with PTSD, two things you have no personal experience in. It would be prudent to find a sensitivity reader familiar with the U.S. military who can assist you with things like the experience of day-to-day life on base and military jargon.
2. Cultural problems, microaggressions, stereotypes, and inaccuracies surrounding marginalized groups
Using the example above, let's say your character not only served in the U.S. Army but has been diagnosed with PTSD. It would be in your best interest to find an authenticity reader (the same person or not) well versed in the lived or clinical experience of PTSD. What's the typical affect and symptoms? What are your character's triggers and how do those manifest? Or, say your character is Black and you're a white author; finding a Black authenticity reader can help ensure your manuscript is free from any microaggressions that may be offensive to BIPOC readers.
Readers will be quick to point out any inconsistencies in your writing, and you'll lose all credibility. Authenticity reading is crucial for certain genre conventions, as well; if you want to be a crime fiction author, you better know your law enforcement, forensic science, and judicial facts---or at least seek out professionals who can guide you. Other examples of characteristics that may require sensitivity reading: disabilities, race, religion, sexuality, gender, trauma, mental illness, and class.
See here for a list of topics I provide sensitivity reads for. If you don't see one listed, I highly encourage you to seek out a reader from the respective marginalized group. Writing Diversely has a great directory.
I've implemented feedback from beta readers and/or a critique partner. Now can I move on to copyediting?
Oh, boy. Are you ready for this one?
Depending on various factors, you may need a developmental edit. Developmental editors (DE) look at big-picture problems: is the story organized well, does the plot make sense, is there good character development, am I using the correct tenses and POV?
Developmental editing makes sure your story as a whole is in the best shape it can be before we start toggling with grammar (why pay to change commas and hyphens when you still need to rearrange huge chunks of text, or even delete and add things?). A DE does little to no rewriting of your story (that's what ghostwriters are for), but provides suggestions at the chapter level—it's your responsibility as the author to decide how to rewrite/revise after taking the DE's advice into consideration.
A full developmental edit is the most invasive service an editor can provide. We comb through your manuscript and make lots of revisions and comments—some you may not want to hear. Ever heard of the phrase "kill your darlings"? That happens in developmental editing. Are you attached to a certain paragraph or phrase, or a subplot or character? Sometimes, we need to cut that out too.
The good news is that this service is not the "red pen of death" just for the fun of it. Each comment and suggestion is made from years of experience editing and reading books in your genre; we only aim to make edits we think are for the good of your book. Often, you as the author are just too close to your story to see the things that can be improved.
Editors offer different versions of a developmental edit depending on your budget and how much work you want to put into revisions. In addition to a full developmental edit, you may see services like a "manuscript assessment," "manuscript evaluation," or "manuscript critique." While all of these help with big-picture elements, the scope and deliverables of each will vary from editor to editor, so make sure you know what's included.
"What Is Developmental Editing? The Writer’s Guide to Developmental Editing" by Alice Sudlow
"Editing Essentials: What is Developmental Editing?" (MasterClass)
I'm more of a "hands-on" learner and want extra support as I trudge through the first draft.
Maybe you're struggling with accountability ("when did that deadline get there?!") or need help brainstorming when you encounter a rough patch in your story. Or, maybe you're at the very beginning stages of writing and have the seedling of a story outline with no idea how to turn the idea into a book.
In place of a developmental edit (or before, or during, or after, depending on how the editor offers it) is book coaching, also called story coaching or writer coaching or author coaching. While a DE swoops in to review the structure and viability of a story after the manuscript is complete (or near-complete), a book coach works with you in real time to guide you through the process of writing the first draft.
I liken the differences between a DE and a book coach to this quote by Rosie Guagliardo in a Forbes article:
"Coaching pulls out answers from the client while consulting tells the client what to do. With coaching, you walk away with strategies for uncovering your truth on your own. With consulting, you get tools that can support you in moving forward and executing. Both can be useful depending on the client's goal and intention."
A developmental editor is the consultant: they diagnose the problems and prescribe potential solutions. A book coach is the, well, the coach: they help you analyze the consultant's feedback and ask questions to actively develop your skills, in turn giving you the tools to implement the consultant's suggested revisions.
I do not offer book coaching at this time, but I still think it's important for you to know your options. Need help deciding whether a developmental editor or book coach is right for you? Fill out my contact form and upload your manuscript and a synopsis of your book, if you have one. I'll help point you in the right direction.
"When to Hire an Editor (It's Sooner Than You Think" by Ashly Hilst
"How Does Coaching Work?" from Fierce Monkey Coaching (Laraine Herring)
"Writing Coach vs Editor: What's the Difference?" by Rachel Grosvenor
I can't afford a full developmental edit, but I still need guidance on big-picture elements before moving onto copyediting. There are certain elements that don't feel quite right yet...
In place of a full developmental edit, I offer a manuscript assessment, which arrives to you in the form of a report detailing my findings after I extensively read your manuscript. Unlike the full developmental edit, it focuses on my global findings rather than chapter-level findings (e.g., this character's motivations aren't clear, there's a problem of head-hopping, there's too much telling and not enough showing, etc.).
Typically, a full developmental edit includes both an editorial report and in-text markup. An assessment only includes the report, which means it's great if you can't afford a full developmental edit, but does mean you have to comb through your manuscript and implement changes on your own (if that sounds scary, see above for book coaching). An assessment isn't editing per se, but it's a great stand-in for it.
Isn't this just a beta read? Actually, no. Developmental editing requires lots of education and practice (I've taken several classes on it). Unlike beta readers who are just casual readers, developmental editors use their knowledge of publishing and editing to provide professional feedback. The assessment is much more thorough than my beta read.
I can't afford a manuscript assessment, but I really need some help with structure and organization. Do I have any other options?
Many developmental editors provide "mini" critiques, or partial manuscript assessments.
I provide an even more budget-friendly alternative to the manuscript assessment, where instead of looking at your full manuscript, I'll read 10,000 words and provide feedback based on that text. The 10,000 words you send me can be from any point in your manuscript you think needs some extra love, or a section that's reflective of your manuscript as a whole.
The meat and potatoes of my manuscript are cooked (that is, I implemented feedback from beta readers and/or critique partners, and I completed a manuscript critique or developmental edit or didn't need structural help), but I want to make sure my wording and style is fluid and logical before moving to copyediting.
Copyediting and line editing are similar in that neither look at big-picture elements, but on your actual words. While copyediting is more concerned with grammar and consistency, line editing evaluates (shockingly) each line of text. If your writing could use a boost in word choice, a stronger voice, and complex sentence style, copyediting won't look at that stuff.
Line editing focuses on fixing any clunky or confusing sentences; eliminating clichés and repetitive phrases (I once had to stop reading a book whose narrator referred to a character as "the brunette" in every instance); and recasting sentences or ideas that could just be more effective than what's written. If you rely on a specific sentence structure ("Turning around, she walked to the car. Opening the door, she climbed inside. Putting the key in the ignition, . . ." You get it), a line editor will go in and vary sentence structure. If, in chapter ten, your überpolite, small-town character suddenly starts using slang words they'd otherwise never heard before, a line editor will rephrase to something more aligned with their personality. If there's extraneous description of setting that doesn't move the plot forward, it's probably gettin' the chop.
We want your writing to clearly develop your voice, evoke appropriate reader reactions, develop characterization, and implement showing vs. telling—all things a line edit will do. In a way, it's a bit of rewriting. This is my favorite form of editing, and my area of expertise.
I automatically bundle my line editing services with a round of copyediting, so you get the best of both worlds.
For double the fun (and effectiveness), I also offer two rounds of line editing, or, as a cheaper alternative, a mini line edit (both found here).
My manuscript is nearly publication-ready; I just need someone to make sure my t's are crossed and i's dotted and to ensure consistency across the manuscript. Maybe a sprinkle of fact-checking while you're at it?
Woohoo, you made it!
For books, copyediting is the last stage before your manuscript gets formatted and typeset—that is, what your pages will look like when your book goes to print. For blog posts, cover letters, journals, etc., it's the same idea (it's just not becoming a book).
Copyediting focuses on correcting mechanical issues—capitalization, hyphenation, spelling, punctuation, etc.—using a style guide, dictionary, and the author's opinion to make those decisions, and then making sure those decisions are consistent throughout the entirety of your book (we don't want well-mannered spelled with a hyphen in one paragraph and not in another).
That's where the style sheet comes in. Every decision made on how a word is spelled (including capitalization, italicization, font, etc.) is put into your very own personalized style sheet to record this decision. The style sheet will be referenced by your proofreader so they don't accidentally change something you and your copyeditor already agreed to do differently. It's helpful, too, if you plan to write a series; you'll have one handy reference sheet to make sure everything looks the same across all the individual books.
Copyediting also includes minor fact-checking—a copyeditor will typically flag an internal inconsistency ("excuse me, dear author, but Krystal's magical power is mind reading; why is she now teleporting in chapter thirteen?") or for external inconsistencies ("while dope is a pretty dope adjective, I don't think your character living in 1910 would've had this word in her vocabulary").
For extra extra thoroughness, I offer two rounds of copyediting as well (see here).
I've already had my manuscript copyedited and typeset, so I just need to find any last-minute errors and ensure quality control.
Contrary to what many think, proofreading is not copyediting. Not even a little.
Proofreading is technically not even editing; it's a form of quality control to make sure no errors make it through final publication.
Copyediting is the last stage before your pages are formatted and typeset. Proofreading comes after formatting and is one last-ditch effort to make sure no mistakes were untouched during the line- and/or copyedit—and just as importantly, that no new mistakes were introduced during the design phase.
Your proofreader will use your copyeditor's style sheet to guide them through the manuscript ("Is this word supposed to be capitalized? Ah yes, the copyeditor says so right here on the style sheet"). A proofreader's goal is to change as little as possible at this stage. Even one small change can ruin the formatting of the page, which means your book will have to go through another round of formatting, which means more money from your pockets and less money for that trip to Cabo you've been dreaming about. Proofreaders are only looking for any egregious errors that should be fixed before the book is in the readers' hands.
Many new authors erroneously believe they can get away with a proofread in place of a line edit or copyedit. The issue that often results is scope creep on behalf of your proofreader; you requested a proofread when the manuscript called for a heavier edit, leaving your proofreader with no choice but to fix only the painfully obvious errors, such as typos, or risk performing a more extensive service she didn't agree to. If you get your manuscript back and think, "Hey, there's still so many issues she didn't fix!"—well, my friend, it's because you ordered the prime rib but only paid for the buffet.