It’s been a while since we’ve talked editing. Let’s talk editing.
Asking for freelance editing is like ordering fast food: you can order a sandwich, the combo meal, or just the kid-sized cone. If you’re investing in a freelancer to edit your work, you want to be satisfied with their work. You’ll develop a good relationship with your editor and get your money’s worth if you know how to “order” the edits you want.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret: there’s unfortunately no set-in-stone vocab that is accepted amongst all editors. Editors sometimes can’t even decide if “copyediting” is one word or two (the answer is yes). Thus, you’ll hear lots of names to describe the same type or intensity of editing.
Before you reach out to a freelance editor, use the following insight to ask for the right level of editing.
Intensity of Editing
Light editing: most editors will understand that when you want a light edit, you don’t want them to come down hard on you. You want them to point out the most blatant, glaring, and damning errors while letting go of a lot of other things.
Most editors will generally start out this way and if you want a more thorough job, they’ll do just that. It’s to help you see what must be changed according to the rules, while not damaging your ego. No one likes having a manuscript that’s more red than black and white.
Heavy editing: This is more of that “combo meal” I was mentioning. If you want your editor to go to town, ask for the heavy edits. This is intense, but if you want to send a polished manuscript, thesis, or article to someone else, you want to sound and appear as professional as possible.
Copyediting: This is looking at each sentence as just a sentence. As in, the editor is just looking for spelling and grammar.
Most of these edits are easy for you to accept or reject on Track Changes. Most of the time, they’ll use Chicago Manual of Style, so if they change something, it’s more likely a rule that is widely accepted by editors and unless you’re doing it for stylistic purposes, you can just accept them.
Substantive editing: This is editing on a paragraph level. It’s generally understood that if you want to check for flow and organization, this is the edit you want—perfect for writing an essay or thesis.
This might involve moving paragraphs or sentences around, rather than checking for the little grammar stuff. If you want someone to check to make sure your argument make sense, this is a great way to make sure.
Developmental editing: This is where you have the most liberty to accept or reject an editor’s comment. This kind of edit is more of the comments left on the margins or comment boxes to the side.
These are the suggestions that say, “this sounds unrealistic, what if the character did this instead?” or “A few paragraphs ago it was dusk and now all of a sudden it’s midnight? You might want to clear this up to not confuse the reader.” Stuff like that.
This is my personal favorite because it’s the coaching part of editing—constructive criticism to help the story or purpose of the piece to really take off.
So these are some basic kinds of editing that you were probably aware of, but now you know some terms to throw around. Some editors might have a different idea of what each term means, so don’t just say, “I’d like a medium-sized development edit with a side of copyedits, please.” However, you can ask for just spelling checks, or to really focus on your argument. Once you ask an editor to focus on certain things, they will stick to just what you want—no more, no less.
What has been your experience with editors in the past? Did you like having your work edited? Was it a memory you’re trying to suppress? Hopefully these tips will ensure that you get the right work done.