Finding a Freelance Editor: Types of Fiction Edits

Finding a Freelance Editor: Types of Freelance EditsFinding a freelance editor for your novel requires research, and as I said in my post a few weeks ago, one of the ways you can narrow down your options is to know which kind of edit you’re looking for. In researching different editing styles, I have realized just how confusing distinguishing them can be. Different people use different terms for different kinds of edits, so I’ll try to give you the most accurate portrayal of editing types as I can from what I have personally learned.

Manuscript Assessment/Developmental Edit

A developmental editor’s primary job is to give the author a general assessment of his/her story. Instead of giving focused comments on particular passages, the developmental editor will typically type up a packet of notes in which he/she will point out the strengths and weakness of the plot, characters, and overall language use, and then offer some advice for reworking these areas.

Rewriting sections or the entire manuscript may be necessary. Good, critical beta readers can provide the same kind of feedback and may suffice for many writers at this stage. This is for manuscripts that are in the rough draft stage.

A developmental editor may focus on:

  • The story concept: Does it work? Will it satisfy the reader?
  • The characters: their individual arcs, the distinction of their individual voices, their likeability, whether or not they are sufficiently fleshed out
  • The plot: Are the stakes high enough? Is the conflict sufficient? Is the plot credible, interesting? Too predictable?
  • Worldbuilding: Is the world plausible, logical?
  • Writing: Are there problems with the prose that need addressing? Common mistakes?

Content Edit (also called a developmental, structural, or substantive edit)

After the developmental edit (or beta read if you have good beta readers) and a rewrite or re-re write (or even a re-re-re-rewrite) of parts or the entire manuscript, you will finally be at the content edit stage. A content editor needs to be a person with a keen eye for storytelling, someone who can help you round out all the aspects of your story into one complete whole.

Some of the developmental edit concepts may also be included in a content edit. But while a developmental editor will broadly examine your manuscript, a content editor will focus more deeply on the individual story issues of scenes and paragraphs. At this point, your current draft should already have a solid story and characters.

Some things a content editor may consider:

  • Scenes: Does the scene show something relevant about the character or plot? Does it feel complete? Is there enough emotion? Is reordering necessary?
  • Plot: Are there any unresolved plot holes? Are there areas where foreshadowing may fit in nicely?
  • Characters: Does the character stay in character? Are his actions believable? Are there any areas of missed opportunity to deepen a character’s motivations? Do the characters maintain distinct voices?
  • POV issues: Does the author stay true to his chosen POV? Head-hopping?
  • Dialogue: Is it believable? Does it fit the character?
  • Are there areas of “telling” that need to be reworked? Info-dumps?
  • Backstory and worldbuilding: How well does the author work these elements into the manuscript? Is there information that could work better as dialogue and action?
  • Pacing problems, an opening that doesn’t grab the reader, an insufficient ending, a lack of tension in scenes

Line Edit (also called a stylistic edit)

Once you’ve got your story issues smoothed out, you’re ready for the next step: the line edit. While a content edit focuses on the story, a line edit focuses on the use of language: the tone of voice, the rhythm of the prose, the structure of the sentences, the power of punctuation.

A good line editor has an ear for rhythm and understands the artistry of language. If you have all the notes ready on the page (and at this point you should), a line editor will come in and make them sing.

Many freelancers will combine a line edit with the copy edit and there is nothing wrong with that, but it is important to understand the distinction.

A line editor will help you fix:

  • Repetitive elements: words, syntax, paragraphs, and ideas
  • Any literary devices that are either not working in the context or overused (in other situations the line editor can help to bring them out)
  • Issues of rhythm, including punctuation, word choice, and transitions between sentences
  • The emotive impact of certain lines (which will typically rely on the efficacy of the first three bulleted points in this list)
  • Ensuring the structure of the sentence carries its intended meaning
  • Convoluted or awkward sentences
  • Autonomous body parts and implausible simultaneous actions
  • Verbal tense and aspect irregularities, passive voice
  • Incorrect word usage
  • Inconsistencies in authorial voice, character voice, or overall description of characters, places, or events
  • Lines of “telling” that could be reworked to better “show”
  • Erroneous facts (though this may also fall under copy-editing)

Copy Edit

A copy editor’s job is to fix the technical issues in your manuscript. These include any spelling, punctuation, and formatting errors. A copy editor will adhere to a chosen style guide. For fiction many editors use the Chicago Manual of Style (CMoS), but traditional publishers often have their own in-house style guides.

A copy editor will look for:

  • The overuse of italics, exclamation points, and other font/punctuation idiosyncrasies
  • The accuracy of facts
  • Formatting issues: backwards quotation marks, spacing or indentation variation
  • Lingering grammar problems: comma splices, dangling modifiers, and wrong tense
  • Word usage: jargon and slang; incorrect word use
  • Dialogue tags vs. action tag inconsistencies
  • Spelling: incorrect capitalization, misspelled words, uniformity (British vs. American)


This is the last stage! A proofreader reviews your manuscript in its final formatted form to catch any missed typos, punctuation, or formatting mistakes. This may seem like a voluntary stage—I mean, you and your editor(s) have read your story hundreds of times, right? WRONG! Don’t underestimate the power of the proofreader. You’d be surprised by how many little things are overlooked in the final stages of revision. At this point, both your editor(s) and you are too close to the story. A fresh pair of critical eyes for the last read-through is essential.

Have you worked with an editor during any of these stages? Did this clear things up for you?

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The Freelance Editor Dilemma: Hiring a Good One

The Freelance Editor Dilemma: Hiring a Good One

Winter Bayne recently did a post about available freelance editors and kindly mentioned me. At this point, I’m well aware that writers have different views on hiring editors for their work. However, once you choose to find an editor, then some amount of research will inevitably be necessary.

So where can you find freelance editors?

The Freelance Editor Dilemme: Hiring a Good OneOne of the first places I’d start looking is the Editorial Freelancers Association. If an editor is remotely serious about editing, then the $145 a year membership fee is a price worth paying. In addition to offering editorial webinars and other continuing education classes, they have sample contracts, price ranges, and a wealth of other useful information. By finding an editor who has willingly paid that fee and invested in those services, you’re more likely to find someone who does quality work — or at least someone who is serious about what they do. I’m not saying that all members of the EFA are good editors, but it’s one way of narrowing down the field.

Also, ask around. Look at the work of other authors you admire and see who edited for them. As with anything, recommendations can go a long way.

What about qualifications? Should your editor have any?

Well, in theory, yes, though most qualifications don’t come in the form of editing degrees or certifications. Many freelance editors, including me, haven’t ever worked in the traditional business. Some of us may have done internships with or worked at publishing houses for a while, but most of us have probably gained experience simply by taking on more clients or by learning from other editors. The fact is that anyone can be an editor, which can make sorting the good from the bad somewhat of an endless chore, and if you’re not careful, you could end up investing in someone who simply can’t do the job.

If you’re looking for a “qualified” individual, consider the following:

  • Find someone who has participated in editing courses — seminars, webinars, classes — anything to suggest that they care about furthering their editorial education. Don’t be afraid to ask for their resume and/or references.
  • Know what kind of edit you’re looking for before hiring an editor. There are many different types of edits, and most editors are probably better at one kind of edit than they are at another. It is essential to find someone who can fit the current needs of your novel.
  • Find an editor who reads what you write, especially for developmental and content edits. A good editor will tell you that they aren’t the best person for your story, but not everyone will be honest, especially if they are just starting out. An editor’s best education, like a writer’s, is from reading what’s out there.
  • Ask for a sample edit. A freelancer should be more than willing to edit a small percentage of your work for free before you have to sign the contract. Use this to your advantage. Don’t be afraid to look elsewhere if they don’t meet your standards.
  • Understand that an editor’s background — as with anything — does not necessarily translate to by-default editing skills.

These are just a few suggestions. Different people have had different experiences. Newer, greener editors will be more affordable, but you will be taking a bigger gamble on their actual editing capabilities. A more experienced editor is doubtlessly going to be more expensive, but you’re paying them for just that: their experience. Either way, no matter your budget, your goals, or your story’s needs, I suggest doing the research to find the editor who works best for you.

What can you tell me about your search for editors? Do you have any to recommend to other SM readers? Do you have any other suggestions?