You know what blows? (Not that, you pervert.) Never getting the proper edits for your novel—and worse, being none the wiser after publishing it.
Here's a rundown of the different types of editing.
A developmental editor focuses on the big picture of a story, such as plot, characterization, setting, POV, etc. Since every manuscript has different issues, a developmental editor may point out anything from content gaps, to inconsistent characters, to missing plot arcs. Developmental edits can come in a variety of formats, like feedback in a lengthy letter or direct manuscript editing, which may include moving paragraphs to improve story flow, deleting big repetitions or filler, and tracking the continuity of plot, setting, and character.
Before you write your novel, some developmental editors, like yours truly, provide consultations to help plan your story and concept too.
**When looking for the right developmental editor, don’t just compare price. Compare the value of what you’re getting and the compatibility between the two of you. You could send your manuscript to five editors and get different thoughts and answers back from each one. Choose the editor who best suits your needs, and helps you grow.
A line editor literally (the only time we’re allowed to use that word) goes through a manuscript line by line, to improve overall flow, readability, and clarity. This includes smoothing awkward sentences, tightening wordiness, suggesting transitions, and improving word choices. Because every word has its own personality, it’s important to use the right one for the right purpose.
On top of this, a brilliant line editor can improve writing rhythm, elegance, and emphasis (skills that can’t always be taught) without changing your voice. That off-key sounding orchestra is now a harmonious symphony of words.
Finally, what most people think all editing is. Stuff like, It’s whom. *insert eye twitch. A copyeditor follows the rules of grammar and style. And guess what? Copyediting has three different levels. That’s right. Levels within levels! *insert brain explosion.
Light - Corrects errors of spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and word usage (their/they’re/there). And ensures consistency of spelling, punctuation, and numbers (spelled vs. numeral).
Medium - All the tasks for light copyediting, and: ensures consistency of tone, changes headings to achieve consistent structure, flags inappropriate figures of speech and conflicting statements. (About that whole use of literal...)
Heavy - All the tasks for medium copyediting, and: removes wordiness, smooths transitions, moves sentences to improve readability, and suggests additions and deletions. The line between heavy copyediting and substantive editing is often blurred, and can mean the same thing to some people. *mopping exploded brain off the floor.
This is not a job for your mother or English teacher (unless she’s a bonafide proofreader). A proofreader checks a manuscript, word for word, either against typeset copy or as an ebook format to correct any last surface errors. This includes word spacing, font consistency, stray punctuation and grammar errors that were missed by a copyeditor, and much more. This is a final check before publishing (that's a lot of pressure), so no big changes can be made to the manuscript at this level.
Some final thoughts...
Ideally, you would have an editor for each level. But not everyone has money growing out of their ears. Sometimes you can hire an editor to perform line and copyediting in the same pass. And you can get critique partners or advanced beta readers for developmental help. (Beta readers are excellent to use for general thoughts and reading reactions, however, there is quite a big skill gap between them and developmental editors.)
And since each level of editing builds upon the previous one, you don't want to tear your hair out by skipping around. Go in order, big work to small work, for the most organized and least kill-me-now painful experience...to a perfectly polished novel.