Substantive editor, copy editor or proofreader: Know which one you want
Whilst looking at my Google Analytics, it seems many people are reaching my site because they’re searching for answers on the different types of editing. It can be confusing. What is a line edit? What’s the difference between a substantive editor and a copy editor?
So I’m here to explain the types of editing, what jobs each role should carry out, and how this can help your book.
First: What do you need help with?
This is the most important step. If you don’t know what you want to be improved, then unfortunately I can’t help you either.
Do you merely want someone to check spelling, grammar, and punctuation?
Do you want them to check page numbers all match up?
Or do you think your book has a larger problem, such as unrealistic characters or setting?
Tell me your issues first, and then a bespoke package and quote can be agreed upon.
You might want a proofreader, with some added light copyediting. You might want an editor who can also check spelling and grammar mistakes.
Proofreading isn’t always just a case of correcting spelling. There’s lots more a proofreader can do. I will:
- Check page numbers and headings match up
- Check the table of contents against chapter titles, page numbers and end matter such as appendices.
- Ensure consistent styles – of spellings, hyphenation and capitalisation on particular – by following a style guide.
- Watch out for omissions and inconsistencies in typography (font), layout, and content.
- Eliminate confusing page breaks or columns. Is there one line at the end of a chapter that sits at the top of the page, alone?
- Check that the content is arranged logically.
- Liaise with the author to resolve queries or give advice.
Proofreading is always done after any editing or copyediting. The above list is taken from the SfEP’s website.
A copy editor will do everything the proofreader does, and more.
As a copy editor, I can:
- Correct errors in spelling, punctuation, grammar, style, but alsolong sentences, overuse of italic, bold, capitals, exclamation marks, and the passive voice.
- Correct doubtful facts, weak arguments, plot holes, and gaps in numbering.
- Check that characters have the same hair and eye colour throughout, as well as their name.
- Check for any sudden tense or person changes, e.g. first to third.
- Make sure the timeline all adds up and makes sense.
However, I can also look at the wider problems:
- Content and structure – Is there anything missing? Do all the headings make sense?
- Information – sentences should be short and concise with paragraphs to break up ideas. Headings also make ideas easier to comprehend and separate. Or, in contrast, are there too many confusing subheadings or subchapters?
- Wording – Is the language correct for the readership? Do any abbreviations need explaining? Are there any unusual words the reader might not understand?
- Consistency – For each book, I create a style guide showing all the decisions and small changes I’ve made.
- Accuracy and anomalies – Are there any misquoted quotations, errors of fact, misspelt place names, or numbers that don’t add up?
- Technical matters – are there page breaks where there shouldn’t be? Are there any incorrectly-used special characters?
The most important thing is that the document adheres to the 7 Cs of Editing: clear, correct, coherent, complete, concise, consistent, and credible. The above list was taken from the SfEP website.
A substantive editor will focus much more on the content of the writing, rather than the individual words. The focus is mainly on the accuracy of language, the flow of the writing and the overall readability. I can help the writer improve their book by looking at the story elements, the plot, any dialogue, the point of view, word choices, action pace and characterisation.
You would usually use a substantive editor when the book is in its second or third draft. I can point out weaknesses and suggest how to strengthen these weaker areas.
These are the different types of editing, and picking one means deciding what you need the most.