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Kinds of editors and levels of edit--what every writer and editor should know (updated)

Updated 8-19-19. Original post 7-22-13)

If you want to hire (or be) an editor, it is important to know the difference between what different kinds of editors do. There are developmental or substantive editors, assignment editors, story editors, production editors, photo editors, line editors, copyeditors, and proofreaders, among other specialties? Read up on the different functions in these stories (linked to below), so you know what to ask for and what to expect. These articles are sorted roughly by category; Freelance editing


What editors do: levels and types of editing
Fiction editing
Copyediting
Proofreading
Newspaper editing
Technical and academic editing
Freelance editing
The editor-author relationship
Whether editors are valued and valuable
Becoming an editor
Editing a website



What editors do: levels and types of editing

What Editors Do (pdf, Lynette Smith's useful chart, published with San Diego Professional Editors Network)
Is Line Editing a Lost Art? (Nick Ripatrazone, Lit Hub, 2-6-19) 'Line editors are often mistaken for copyeditors. Copyeditors tend to polish and perfect work at a later stage, but the confusion is telling. George Witte, editor-in-chief at St. Martin’s Press, has said “many copyeditors do the work that line editors should have done.”...Line editors tighten sentences when tension and clarity is missing, but they also give sentences breath when constrained. Beyond removing clichés, they excise a writer’s pet words and mannered constructions. Line editors help sentences build into paragraphs, and paragraphs flow into pages....[Line editor different from acquisition editor:] The mode of acquisition is one of decision: this book works, it will sell. For Delany, that mode is similar to a writing workshop style of criticism, which will “list toward the generalized and effect-oriented, rather than toward the specific and causally sensitive.” <br/>"What Delany suggests—and what seems true for Erskine, Gottlieb, and other line-editors who stay the course—is a single, critical, editor-as-reader, who evolves and grows with the writer. Instead of thinking about line editing as a forgotten art, one callously consumed by the book business, we should consider it a privilege—a gift—enjoyed by some writers, but not most.... Line editor as teacher and guide feels like a useful metaphor—and one that I’ve experienced myself."
4 Levels of Editing Explained: Which Service Does Your Book Need? (Corina Koch MacLeod and Carla Douglas, on The Book Designer, 4-23-14). Need to hire an editor? Read this excellent explanation of processes involved in (1) The Big-Picture Edit (developmental, structural or substantive editing), (2) Paragraph-Level Edit (stylistic or line editing), (3) Sentence-Level Edit (copyediting), and (4) Word-Level Edit (proofreading).
Definitions of Editorial Skills. Editors Association of Canada on CORE SKILLS (structural editing, stylistic editing, copy editing,and proofreading); ADDITIONAL SKILLS (acquisitions editing, comparative editing, electronic coding or tagging, fact checking, formatting, indexing, manuscript evaluation, production editing, project editing, rewriting, visual research, and web editing). Structural editing is also known as substantive editing, manuscript editing, content editing, or developmental editing. Stylistic editing is aka line editing (which might include copy editing). And so on, with duties outlined.
Thinking Fiction – To Specialize or Generalize? (Carolyn Haley, An American Editor, 6-11-18) Haley loves editing fiction and tells how she got started doing it, then upped her skills so she could work at a higher pay-rate; how then a "famine' came and she edited an academic nonfiction book and realized that although that kind of editing would pay much better, she would hate it. Newcomers to the field: her ruminations may help you think through your own training needs and approaches to getting work you will feel good doing--make you aware of the many ways in which editing work can vary.
The Business of Editing: Light, Medium, or Heavy? (Rich Adin, An American Editor, 9-24-12)
Which type of editing do I need? (Grammar Factory) What editors do in a structural edit, a developmental edit, a copyedit, and a proofread.
What is the Difference Between Copyediting and Line Editing? (NY Book Editors, Jan. 2015) "A line edit addresses the creative content, writing style, and language use at the sentence and paragraph level. But the purpose of a line edit is not to comb your manuscript for errors – rather, a line edit focuses on the way you use language to communicate your story to the reader. Is your language clear, fluid, and pleasurable to read? Does it convey a sense of atmosphere, emotion, and tone? Do the words you’ve chosen convey a precise meaning, or are you using broad generalizations and clichés?... it is not the specific purpose of a line edit to comb through your prose, fix your grammar, typos, capitalize proper nouns, or change all spellings of colour to color because we’re in America, not Britain. This is the job of a copyeditor, and it requires a rule-based understanding of standard American English usage that traditional editors don’t have....to make a sweeping and totally reductive generalization, the job of a general editor is to help you tell a better story, and the job of a copyeditor is to make sure the grammar on every page is correct."
Editor, Editor, Everywhere an Editor (Rich Adin, An American Editor, 1-13-10). A good explanation of the differences between developmental editors (editing for structure, clarity, and the big picture) and copyeditors (the "rules-based" editor)
Definitions of editorial skills (EAC descriptions of tasks of developmental/project editing; substantive or structural editing; stylistic editing; rewriting; copyediting; picture research; fact checking/reference checking; indexing; mark-up/coding; proofreading; mock-up (rough paste-up); production editing.
Editing v. Editing v. Editing (ghostwriter Claudia Suzanne's helpful distinctions between substantive, line, and copy editing, which vary for fiction and nonfiction)
Editing Titles vs. Editing Duties, Part 1 (Copyediting, 8-6-16) "In this two-part series, we’ll climb down the editing ladder, from the job that takes a bird’s-eye view to the one that concerns itself with individual letters on a page (or screen)." Part 1: Developmental Editing, Line Editing. Part 2: (Proofreading, Fact Checking.
Adapting Your Copyediting Skills to Proofreading Tasks (Copyediting, 4-2-13)
Copy editing (Wikipedia) explains some differences between U.S. and British terminology--for example, "copy editor" is used in British book publishing but the same task in newspaper and magazine publishing is done by a sub editor (or subeditor). Even if the terms aren't right for where you are, this entry might help you figure out what type of editing you need.
What do subeditors do? (Charlotte Baxter, The Guardian, 7-26-12). Subs try to make articles readable, accurate and widely read--writing headlines that, in a newspaper, can be "lyrical, imaginative, off the wall," but online a standalone headline must make it clear what the article is about or readers and search engines won't find it.
EDITS, EDITORS, EDITING—The Secret Weapon of Every Successful Writer (Ruth Harris, Anne R. Allen's blog, 7-27-14). Advice for fiction writers, including items such as "Review your dialogue tags. They can often be pruned or even deleted."
Editing: What? (Delores Farmer and Sherry Southard on levels of editing)
Levels of Edit (San Diego Professional Editors Network)
Unraveling the Mysteries of the Editing Process (Erin Brenner, The Writing Resource)
Developmental Editing (Kristie Hein, Pictures & Words). "Developmental editing helps establish the best overall structure and organization for a writing project at an early stage. The developmental stage is especially critical with a collection of short pieces, or with multiple authors. ....When Ten Speed tapped me to develop, rewrite, research, and contribute writing to the new edition ... I plunged into the project: poring over the first edition, flagging older stories for follow-up, then seeking out the latest information. I sorted through the author's thick folders of clippings, anecdotes, and readers' responses, assigning each to an appropriate topical chapter."
Why photo shoots need editors too (Julia Sandford-Cooke, SfEP, 1-13-15), Excellent overview of a position that gets you out of the office!
Editors: Scourge of the Earth or Cheap Psychotherapists? (Rebecca Rosenblum, The Afterword, National Post, 12-6-11). An excellent explanation and appreciation of the differences between substantive or developmental editors, line editors, copy-editors, and proofreaders -- as distinct from acquisition editors and production editors.
How to Brief an Editor (Institute of Professional Editors Limited, Australia). Be clear about what you want an editor to do before you engage them. What level of editing do you require?
Setting Editing Expectations (Erin Brenner, Copyediting 4-3-12). A checklist of possible tasks for a report manuscript; if the budget is tight, ask client to use this to specify which items are a priority -- create a triage list. The sample list of tasks to be done is help to show clients who think all that's required is a quick spell-check.
What a permissions editor does (Julie Cancio Harper, Permissions Trackers, on Publishing Careers 1-31-08)
Your Copy Sucks: You Don't Even Know What "Edit" Means (TJ Dietderich, PRBreakfastClub)
So what does a proof-reader/copy-editor/transcriber/copy-writer actually do? (A day in the month of Liz Broomfield, Libro Editing Services, 2-9-11)


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Fiction editing


Editors Roundtable: Introducing Nancy Wick and Julie Van Pelt (Kyra Freestar interviews two developmental editors of fiction, on The Editor's POV (a forum for freelance editors of fiction and creative nonfiction)
Editing Fiction. Links to Carolyn Haley's excellent series of pieces on editing fiction on An American Editor. See especially (scroll down for) the parts on The Subjectivity of Editing Fiction.
Why Copy Editors Are Necessary: A Small Treatise on the Publishing World (Nancy Hanger, Windhaven Press, on why copyeditors are necessary for fiction)
Duties of an Editor & How Editors Help Writers (Fiction editor Beth Hill, on The Editor's Blog, who also wrote What Should an Editor Do for a Writer?
What Editors Do and What Editing Can't Buy (Writer Beware, SFWA)
What's the Difference Between Developmental Editing, Content Editing, Copy Editing, and Proofreading? (Stacey Aaronson, The Self-Publishing Scoop, 3-3-14)
Writers: Get The Right Kind Of Feedback! (Molly Greene on what to look for in an editor or beta reader, at various stages -- development, redevelopment, consolidation). Excellent advice from writers' viewpoint.
What is a beta reader and why do I need one? (Belinda Pollard, Small Blue Dog) and How to find a beta reader.


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Copyediting


A copyeditor's commandments (Erin Brenner, Copyediting Tip of the Week, 2-1-12)
Copyediting: A Duty of Care (Corporate Writing Pro, 12-7-11). An excellent list of the things a good copyeditor does, well-phrased, including, "Revising sentences to bring subjects and verbs closer together," "Moving subjects to the front of the sentence," and "Discovering hidden verbs, otherwise known as nominalizations."
What It's Really Like To Be A Copy Editor Lori Fradkin, The AWL, 7-21-10)
The Business of Editing: A Rose By Another Name Is Still Copyediting (An American Editor, 6-27-12, writes about the trend for publishers to outsource copy editing offshore for very low fees, getting poorly edited work back, and hiring American editors to "proofread" PDFs, by which they mean copy edit the poorly edited copy at proofreaders' rates.
In Praise of Copy Editors (And Why We Need More) (Reid Norman, Communications Strategy 4-26-12)
The Hidden Costs of Copyediting (Erin Brenner, Copyediting, 3-6-12). For publishers who think copyediting is too big an expense and should be cut.
Why Editing Matters (American Copy Editors Society, or ACES, which invites your comments)
The things editors do (John D. McIntyre, You Don't Say 2-15-12) Take this sentence: Please welcome the Hart’s into our Diocesan family.
What It Takes to Be a Medical Writer (Susan E. Caldwell, on her helpful biotech ink spots blog). Subscribe free to The Biotech Ink Insider for job info, archived articles.
Finding a good medical writer or editor (PDF, Melanie Moore, American Academy of Periodontology, 2006). See chart showing difference between basic, moderate, and comprehensive tasks for proofing and various forms of editing)


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Proofreading


The Difference Between Copyediting and Proofreading (Mark Nichol, Daily Writing Tips, 4-2-11)
Is Freelance Proofreading the Job for You? (Kate Rosengarten, KateProof, 8-1-12)
Untangling Proofreading (Louise Harnby, An American Editor, 2-8-16). How one defines proofreading isn’t determined by what one actually does, but rather by whom one talks to. Outside of book publishing, it often sounds more like editing (but if calling yourself a proofreader is how they discover you, so be it). Don't assume you and a potential client have the same expectations.

Newspaper editing


What exactly does a newspaper copy editor do? (Bill Walsh, The Slot, on "The Lot of Journalism's Noble Misfits." Check his other entries, too, including How a Copy Desk Works, How Can I Become a Copy Editor? , and What's a slot man?
An Evolving Model for Editing (Deborah Howell, Ombudsman, WaPo, on the changing role of the editor as newspaper staffs are cut)


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Technical and academic editing

What is substantive editing? Steven L. Kanter, MD, editor of Academic Medicine, interviews Albert Bradford, director of staff editing (YouTube video). Bradford explains that far beyond "comma chasing," structural editing is working collegially (not correctively) with an author with something substantive to say to carve away the bad stuff (like Michelangelo carving sculpture) to reveal the "David," to be sure the substance (theme, idea, argument) is clearly and compellingly enough stated that even someone not in that field would find it of interest, and the author will feel grateful for having a better piece.
The role of the editor in the technical writing team (Jean Hollis Weber's excellent outline of what editors do, types of edit, and interactions with the writing team)
Clarity for Editing (Justin Baker suggests clearer names for levels of edit, STC Technical Editing Sig 4-20-07)
Revision notes (Gavin Armstrong, The SkepticalChymist, a blog from Nature Chemistry, 12-1-10) "Revising a manuscript in response to the comments of referees should not be about doing the bare minimum to get a paper published. Addressing criticisms that are genuine and constructive can lead to much more compelling research articles."
The Levels of Edit (PDF, Robert Van Buren and Mary Fran Buehler, 2nd edition, Society for Technical Communication,
Developing New Levels of Edit (Judyth Prono, Martha DeLanoy, Robert Deupree, Jeffrey Skiby, and Brian Thompson, STC, revising levels of edit for technical editing, as originally spelled out by Van Buren and Buehler), not online as of 11-2-14 -- let me know if it goes online again)
ELSS Editing Requirements (Rick Weisburd on what's required for scientific editing and translation from Japanese, at one serious firm)
What It Takes to Be a Medical Writer (Susan E. Caldwell, on her helpful biotech ink spots blog). Subscribe free to The Biotech Ink Insider for job info, archived articles.


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Freelance editing


How (Freelance) Editors Operate (San Diego Professional Editors Network)
7 Common Myths About Hiring a Freelance Editor for Your Book by Nancy Peske. Explains the various basic kinds of editing.
Why Children’s Publishing Needs Freelance Editors Now (Emma D. Dryden, Publishing Perspectives, 6-20-12)


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The editor-author relationship


Lives and Letters, an interview with Robert Gottlieb. This Salon.com interview with the legendary editor is ostensibly about writing but gives helpful insights into the editing process (and the writer-editor relationship) inside a good publishing house.
Editors on Editing: What Writers Need to Know About What Editors Do, a book that explains the publishing process and the special skills needed for particular areas, such as mass market and romance, edited by Gerald Gross
Classifying editorial tasks (Jean Weber, Technical Editors' Eyrie). When rules-based and analysis-based edits ovelap, which editorial decisions are negotiable with the writer, and which are not?
What is substantive editing (Jean Weber, Technical Editors' Eyrie: Resources for technical editors). See also Classifying editorial tasks
Stop Editing Me (Scott Norton on the editor's natural bent)


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Whether editors are valued and valuable


eLife>: Can a Top-Tier Journal Run Without Professional Help? (Phil Davis, Scholarly Kitchen, 12-1-11). Davis predicts that a scientific journal with no professional editors will soon face the same problems PLos Biology and PLos Medicine did.
Black day for the blue pencil (Blake Morrison, Guardian, 8-5-05, argues that editors are an endangered in British publishing)
Showcasing the Work Editors Do (Bay Area Editors' Forum), links to many useful articles.
Why you need a professional editor (Dave Bricker, 8-17-12, good advice for writers who are self-publishing)


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Becoming an editor


So You Want to Be an Editor: Information about a Career in Editing (in one page, the Editors' Association of Canada provides a great overview of what being an editor involves and requires)
Becoming an Editor (from the blog, This Crazy Industry)
How to Become a Developmental Editor (Scott Norton)
What Do Hiring Managers Want? (Gail Saari's notes on a BAEF panel in 2003 featuring Lasell Whipple, managing editor at Jossey-Bass; Joy Ma, former managing editor for PC Games magazine, currently with Key3Media; Lorena Jones, managing editor at Ten Speed Press; and Walter Keefe, of Synergy Personnel Services, Inc.)


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Editing a website


Creating and Editing Websites (David Baumgold's tutorial for beginners)
Editing a Website: Extending the Levels of Edit (Steve Anderson, Chuck Campbell, Nancy Hindle, Jonathan Price, and Randall Scasny). This article describes lessons learned by an editing class at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology when they attempted to edit a website created by others. Far from being the simple text-editing project the students expected, their venture turned into a major overhaul of the site, dealing with screen design, coding, interface issues, and interactivity. The Levels of Edit concept, familiar to most editors, provided a framework to help the class organize the work. See also Resources for editors and writers of websites (Technical Editors’ Eyrie), for technical editors.
Basic HTML Web Page Structure
(Ironspinder.com)
Editing an existing remote website in Dreamweaver (Adobe Dreamweaver Team blog 9-6-11)


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Have I overlooked anything important? If so, please comment below.
Original post July 22, 2013. Updated Sept. 9, 2013, Aug. 7, 2014, March 17, 2017.

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