Editing Series 101: Editing Stages is entirely focused on the different stages of editing. Today, we will talk about developmental editing, line editing, and copy editing. Plus, we will find out if a book needs to undergo editing. For this episode, editor at the Parliament House Press, Sophia DeSensi, joins me to answer our questions!
What is the very first stage of editing?
The first stage is developmental edit. In my opinion, I believe it’s most beneficial for the author to revise based on big picture story elements first and work their way down to prose. There are two main elements in the craft of fiction writing: the story (plot) and the words used to tell that story (prose). I like to focus on plot first because oftentimes, lines and whole chapters can be cut from the manuscript during this stage. In order for the writer not to get attached to their words and feel comfortable cutting whole chapters from their work, I advise polishing prose once the structural elements are nailed down.
Can an author choose not to follow a developmental edit?
Realistically, every novel will benefit from a developmental edit. In this stage, the editor will look for big picture areas of improvement in the novel, such as plot structure, worldbuilding, magic system (if applicable), characterization, GMC, theme, voice, and pacing. Even if a writer has managed to capture all of these elements, I believe there is always room for improvement.
How many times does a manuscript undergo a developmental edit?
It varies from manuscript to manuscript how long an author will undergo developmental edits. This varies because of the amount of structural work needed, the editor’s schedule, and the author’s schedule. However, these are elements that will be discussed between the editor and author to ensure a schedule that is realistic and achievable for both parties. In my experience, I would say a safe average for a developmental edit would be between two and six months.
How long would you say it takes to complete a well-executed developmental edit on a manuscript?
Similarly, it varies from manuscript to manuscript how many drafts a particular story will undergo during the developmental edit. If I were to give an estimation, I would say, two to three drafts for the overall structure of the story and another two to three drafts for developmental aspects at the chapter/scene level.
Now, after the developmental edit is complete, what is the next editing stage that an author and editor move onto?
After the editor and author are comfortable with the overall structure of the manuscript, the editor will move the author into line-edits. This stage focuses on prose—the semantics and syntax used to tell the story. The editor examines every sentence, every word, every use of punctuation for improvement. From the decision to use a comma versus an em dash, the author must ensure every choice is purposeful.
What is the main purpose of a line edit?
The main goal of a line edit is to perfect voice, pacing, tone, and engagement. Many of these elements overlap, so it’s a scrupulous task to balance. For example, voice is created through specific word choice and manipulation of sentence structure. And sentence structure plays a role in the pace of the story. This doesn’t just mean long-winded sentences that slow the pace, but lines told in a scene versus summary. For example, if an author describes a character opening a water bottle in five sentences, then this needs to be a very important moment in the character’s life.
Perhaps the character is undergoing physical therapy and has begun to regain movement in their hands. Then this would be an appropriate action to describe in scene. However, if the character is escaping a stalker and takes a break to open a bottle of water in five sentences, then this may be better told in summary. Even the language used in a particular sentence, whether it be dialogue or internal monologue, must serve a purpose. Word choice reflects tone and characterization, so it’s important to choose each word with intention.
Does a line-edit take as long as a development edit why or why not?
Yes and no. Line-edits don’t typically need as many rounds of drafts as a developmental edit, but they may take the author longer to revise because the author must analyze every use of punctuation and language in the manuscript.
Do you prefer developmental editing or line editing?
I enjoy both aspects of the process, but I take particular joy in line-edits because this is when the author truly lifts the work from the page. I think there’s something really creative and special about considering the fundamental elements of the English language and how they can improve a scene.
After a developmental edit comes a line edit followed by a copy edit. Tell viewers, what is a copy edit?
Copy-editors, in my opinion, have one of the most difficult jobs in the industry. This is why copy-edits are performed by a separate editor, who specializes in this aspect. The editor will look for inconsistencies. The job of a copy-editor often involves a lot of outside research to ensure the story is factual. For example, if the piece is historical fiction, then they’ll ensure the language used is consistent with the time period and culture. It’s also their job to note if a character wears flip-flops at the start of a scene and sneakers at the end. Even if a character picks a rose from a garden, the copy-editor must ensure that roses are grown in that particular environment and in that particular season.
In all these stages, is there a team of editors working with an author? Or does one editor work through each stage with the author he or she is assigned to?
Traditionally, the author will have the same editor for developmental and line-edits and a separate editor for copy-edits. However, this varies by publishing house. Sometimes an author may work with separate editors for developmental and line edits.
Are all these stages such as developmental, line-editing, copy editing completed in one revision or multiple?
One of my favorite craft books that I recommend every writer read is “Self-editing for Fiction Writers” by Renni Browne and Dave King. It focuses on the style of prose. For story structure advice, my favorite reads are “GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict” by Debra Dixon and “Save the Cat” by Blake Snyder.
That concludes the second episode of my Editing Series 101: Editing Stages!
Thank you, Sophia! If you want to find out more about Sophia check-out her website. You can follow my journey on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. Don’t forget to check out my feature on Feedspot’s Top 100 YA Book Blogs!