Line editing is what most people think of when they think of editing—pages of writing marked up in red ink and margin notes scattered everywhere. But despite that quintessential image, the differences between line editing and copy editing or proofreading aren’t always straightforward. Nor are the individual steps in the editing process always clear!
Other editors and publishing houses might use slightly different practices than what I outline here. But here are answers to some of the most common questions I get about what it’s like to do a line editing project with me.
How does the line edit process work?
The very first thing I do is a sample edit (more on that in the next question) to assess the state of the writing. Once we’ve come to an agreement on what needs to be done and the timeline, I start the first round of editing.
The first round of edits is the most time intensive. I make at least two or three passes through the manuscript, evaluating different elements each time. Changes are made with tracked edits and I frequently add comments to either explain the edit or point out places where additional revision might be needed. For longer manuscripts, I also develop a style sheet to keep track of things like unusual spellings, hyphenations, and author preferences about how certain words are treated. Once I’ve finished the initial round, I send it back to the client for their review of the edits.
At this point, the writer might choose to simply incorporate the edits and be done, but frequently they will accept edits, let me know which edits they don’t want to incorporate, add any additional changes, and send it back to me.
My second round is usually focused on editing any sections that had substantial rewrites and cleaning up the remainder of the manuscript—in some ways it’s more akin to a light copy edit because my goal is to make the manuscript as error free as possible. After this clean up, I send it back to the author.
In cases where a lot of rewriting is happening in between rounds, an author will sometimes decide to do a third round with me for a final edit and review.
Why is a sample edit important?
Doing a sample line edit is essentially a trial run between an editor and a writer, and serves both sides in different ways.
For the writer, it’s a way to see how the editor will treat the writing and whether the edits help push the work toward the writer’s ultimate goals. They can also look at the comments to get a sense of the editor’s temperament and tone and whether it’s a good personality fit!
On my side, a sample edit helps me evaluate the writing style, subject matter, how much work needs to be done, and develop an accurate estimate for how much time it will take to do the work. It also gives me a chance to interact with the author and determine how a working relationship might go!
The only time I don’t do sample edits is for very short pieces, like blog posts, bios, or other short form material, because the sample edit would essentially be the edit.
What kind of corrections does a line edit focus on?
A line edit is all about enhancing the flow, clarity, and readability of your writing. Technically speaking, the definition of line editing means it’s a little more focused on making the content flow and stand out. However, when I’m line editing, I also include a review of grammatical structure, syntax, tense agreement, spelling, punctuation, and typos, and I standardize language with the use of a style guide when appropriate. My goal is to get your writing to a place where you can comfortably move on to the next step in your publishing journey.
(Not sure what kind of editing you need? Here is an overview of the different kinds of editing and what they cover.)
Should I expect a “sea of red” when I get my edits back?
Many people are really worried about how many edits they’ll get back and whether that means they’re a good writer or not. Here’s what I have to say to that: even an editor needs an editor!
The writing headspace and editing headspace are totally different. When you’re in a creative flow, it’s important not to get hung up on things like typos, syntax, and grammatical correctness because it will slow down your ideas and writing. My advice is to get all your ideas down first, and then go back to revise, strengthen, and correct.
(And if it’s reassuring at all, I have heard from several editors that more than one well-known author turns out a very messy first draft. Editing helps turn it into the polished story you eventually read!)
Some writers are also worried that an editor will come in and stomp all over their writing voice, forcing everything to comply with strict grammatical rules and wringing the life and uniqueness out of it. I tend to be a hybrid of “descriptive” and “prescriptive” editing, which is to say that I believe grammatical rules can and should be broken in the service of writing that has a strong rhythm and flow.
I do suggest grammatical fixes when the writing is unclear because my ultimate goal is for your readers to understand what you have to say, but maintaining the author’s voice is one of my priorities.
Ultimately, the answer to this “sea of red” question can be a little tricky and depends on the writer themselves, the subject matter, and whether they’ve done revisions on their own prior to sending to me.
What is the “style sheet” and “style guide” you keep talking about?
One of the things that trips up readers is inconsistent treatment of terms, such as referring to someone as a “12 year old” in one paragraph and a “twelve-year-old” in the next. But how do we know what choices to make? Enter the style guide.
There are several style guides out there that set standards for number treatment, hyphenation, punctuation, capitalization, and so on. Newspapers and media outlets frequently rely on the AP Stylebook. Many academic publications follow APA. And for books and novels, the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) is usually the go-to source.
That’s not to say that writers don’t have control over some of these choices (although that sometimes depends on if they’re self publishing or going with a traditional house). The style sheet is a document that helps keep track of the choices made in any individual project. For example, I might record that you prefer to use grey (the British spelling) instead of gray (the American spelling), or that we’re using the alternative rule for numbers (spelling out 0–9 and numerals for anything higher, with exceptions) rather than the standard rule that CMOS suggests (spelling out 0–99, with exceptions).
The style guide really comes in handy when you are publishing multiple books in a series and want to make consistent choices between all of them. And it’s also helpful when a new editor or proofreader reviews your work later on, so they know what choices were made and can stay consistent.
What is the cost and how long does it take?
This really varies depending on the length of the project and the amount of editing that needs to be done. The best way to find out for sure is to reach out to me for a quote! My rates are in line with the Editorial Freelancers Association’s posted averages and I would love to talk with you about your project.