Manuscript Editing and Proofreading

Assuming you have been suitably inspired by the articles in the menu on this website entitled ‘The Writing Process’, you may now be in a position where you have a manuscript, at least in draft form – probably in a Microsoft Word document (or similar) on your computer. So, what’s next?

Having your manuscript professionally edited is an essential part of the publishing process for every author. There are various stages of the editing process, including developmental editing, copyediting, and proofreading, though your manuscript may not need them all. I recommend editing as an essential element of the publishing process, because no matter how good your spelling and grammar may be, there will certainly be quirks and mistakes in your work that only a trained editor will notice.

The type of editing work you will need to have done will depend upon your budget, how much time you have for the project, and the stage your manuscript is at. Needless to say, a first draft is going to require a lot more editing work than a final draft, and other factors including your competence in the relevant language and your writing experience will also play a part in determining which editorial services you need.

In this article, I will describe the three main types of editing you might need to consider, before going on to discuss a few related resources and issues. Let’s start with proofreading.

Proofreading

This is the cheapest and least intensive editing option, and will normally be carried out on the final draft of a manuscript prior to publication. The person doing the proofreading will look for typos, errors in word usage, misplaced punctuation, inconsistencies, etc. They will not focus on the structure of the manuscript (for instance, rewriting entire sentences or paragraphs), or alter issues of logic and coherence.

Copyediting

The copyediting process includes the basic elements of editing outlined in the Proofreading section above, but also includes a much deeper and more thorough process of analysing and correcting the text. As well as correcting incorrect spelling, grammar, and punctuation, a copyeditor will make suggestions to improve expression and ensure consistency, they will smooth out awkward or confusing sentences, and will also check whether any notes or citations are incorrect or incomplete.

Developmental Editing

This is the most work-intensive form of editing, and will involve an editor looking at the structure of your book and the way in which your ideas are developed and expressed. The editor will work on your style and flow and help you to develop your narrative or argument so that it is effective and coherent. Developmental editing will normally take place with a work-in-progress manuscript, and a further round of copyediting or proofreading may subsequently be required, so the time involved, and the costs, can add up.

My Own Experience

I have worked with quite a few different editors, which I have chosen depending on the type of project I’m working on. For a work that isn’t too long, such as an essay that I intend to also publish as a paperback book, in the past I have asked my father (who is a retired professional editor) to do a proofreading job for me. It’s not what you know, it’s who your dad is.

For full-length books I usually complete a draft to the best of my ability, and try to minimise the amount of work that will need to be done by an editor as much as possible (because this saves both money and time). I will help out the editor by taking care of some of the basic formatting, and will also try to get any footnotes in good order so they don’t cause too much of a headache for the editor.

I have never actually worked with an editor on developmental editing. This is partly because the kind of non-fiction philosophy I tend to write doesn’t really need developmental work; I’m very experienced with developing my arguments in a logical way so I don’t usually feel I need that kind of help. But for someone who is writing their first book, especially if it’s a novel, some heavy developmental work may be required. Just be sure to discuss budget beforehand and make sure you work with somebody reputable who you feel you ‘click’ with, otherwise you could end up wasting a lot of money and doing more harm that good to your manuscript.

Organisations Providing Editorial Services

My top bit of advice is that unless you have a word of mouth recommendation for a suitable editor, you should investigate whether there is an official body that vets editors in your country that might have a directory which you can search. Here in the UK we have historically had the SfEP (Society for Editors and Proofreaders) who I have gone to a number of times to find a good editor. The SfEP have now changed their name to the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading, and they have a shiny new website where what used to be the SfEP business directory is now hosted.

In America, there is a body called the American Copy Editors Society which is a non-profit organisation, but I cannot vouch for them as I have never spoken with anyone who has used their services. I suggest doing some research to find the relevant official body in your country, or if there isn’t one, there are many of these kinds of organisations that work across borders.

Editing and Artificial Intelligence

One final issue I’d like to discuss is using artificial intelligence when it comes to editing. When we use programs such as Microsoft Word, certain common linguistic errors are automatically corrected by default as we write. We can then choose to run a spelling and grammar check, which is likely to highlight many other possible errors.

In recent years, organisations in the tech sector have been working hard to provide ever-better AI editing programs. A popular one is Grammarly, and Microsoft recently released some equivalent software in direct competition with Grammarly. Even in the last few weeks, there has been a big update to the AI which Google uses in their email service Gmail, so that now, as you type, phrases and even sentences are suggested and a simple swipe to the right will autocomplete these for you.

I’m not going to subject you to a heated rant about the terrifying threat which I believe Artificial Intelligence poses to humanity, but this is something I have discussed in a number of articles over on my blog. You should all, however, listen to my song entitled Machines Taking Over the World, which you can find on Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube Music, and various other music streaming services, should you have access to any.

What I will say is that although artificial intelligence is changing language in unprecedented ways, it is still the case (and always will be) that a human editor is 100% necessary if you are concerned about creating the best book possible. There are no shortcuts that can replace the amazing work done by an editor who has real thoughts and feelings, and you can either learn this the easy way (just trust me) or the hard way!

One you’ve got your manuscript in top notch condition, you’re ready for the next stage in the publishing process: design and formatting.

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