Thursday, October 01, 2009

The Different Kinds of Edits

Recently on an author's e-mail loop someone asked the question: what's the difference between a substantive edit, a line edit and a copy edit? These terms can be confusing. Author and editor Alton Gansky wrote a good response, run here on F&F with permission:

Substantive edits (often called macro-edits or developmental) deal with big picture issues. Is the manuscript the right length? Does it match what was promised in the proposal? Are characters developed? Is the dialog believable? Does the plot flow? Does the story make sense? Usually a substantive editor is not concerned with the finer points of craft unless so much craft is missing it makes the book weak and unacceptable. So let’s say you’re writing for Howard/S&S. Dave Lambert will read your book, praise it, then point out its problems in a ten to twenty page letter. That’s his job.

Line editing is more detailed and concerned with how the story reads. A good line editor will fix broken sentences, typos, dialog problems, continuity, breaks in logic, chronology problems, etc. The line editor goes line by line and makes the changes or makes suggestions. Usually, the author reviews and accepts or rejects all adjustments. A good line editor will also review the comments made in the macro edit to make sure the author didn’t overlook something. Line editors would change my sentence in the above paragraph from the unnecessary passive, “Does it match what was promised in the proposal?” to, “Does the work meet the promises of the proposal?” Or something like that.

A copy editor is a superhuman with the gift of detail. Not only do they know the nuances of the semi-colon they care about it’s use (and such things as my using it’s instead of its). They also make sure that your manuscript matches the pub’s style sheet. Do you capitalize Heaven or not? What about pronouns for Jesus and God? Is the Christian Writer’s Manual of Style to be preferred over the Chicago Manual of Style? Which dictionary should be used in determining if gunbelt is gun-belt or gun belt?

As Alton noted, there are various names for the substantive edit. Terms for the other edits can also vary from house to house. For example the line edit may be called track changes. And I've found with my publisher that the continuity aspect--did a character's eye color change from green to brown, do specific timelines run logically--is often more in the third stage--the copy edit--than the line edit.

Alton has noted these three main edits in order--from substantive to line edit to copy edit. After that comes proofing the galleys. And after that--a book!

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Mocha with Linda said...

Fascinating. I've done some copy editing and a little line editing. In fact, copy editing is just automatic when I read something. Kinda drives me nuts! LOL

My teenager was so happy to hear there's another book in the pipe after Last Breath. She thought that was the last one.

Sheila Deeth said...

Thanks. I had wondered what happened where.