There are several types of editing based on the current state of the manuscript. Hell, there are probably as many types of editing as there are editors. We humans have been writing stories for a long time. Many editors call their categories and services by other names, but they all boil down to something like this in approximate sequence of need and execution.
Story Cartography is a process-oriented consulting to assist and accelerate the development or creation of a prototype story or synopsis that works. The purpose of this engagement is to deliver a story structure which will satisfy reader expectations in your genre(s) and evoke the emotions that you need to convey to create catharsis in your readers.
Many writers think they can skip this step. Many just do it naturally. We are a species of storytellers after all. Some of them are correct. Most are not. Most books fail at this stage of story development because their premises are fundamentally flawed for any number of reasons. Even veteran story tellers make rookie mistakes at this stage. I call this Story Cartography because the goal is to create a map for the rest of your writing process to follow that will prevent you from getting lost along the way.
If you can afford professional help at this early stage, I’m your huckleberry.
As a book shaman, what I do primarily is commonly called developmental editing. This practice is evaluating and improving, if necessary, the holistic story structure of your work-in-progress (WIP) manuscript to make certain it meets the expectations of readers in your genre(s) and achieves the kind of catharsis that you set out to create. This is the bread and butter of the Story Grid methodology and where I can provide the most value to you, either as a Diagnostic or an Intensive. This work is done at the synopsis and foolscap level first in the Diagnostic then at the scene-by-scene level in the Intensive. Those are in order for a reason. (Yes, it’s tedious and hard. But it’s crucial to get it correct here before you proceed further.)
Developmental editing isn’t about value judgment of the work of you as a writer. It’s a mechanized problem-solving methodology based on real-world neuroscience and reader psychology. Storytelling at its foundation can be quantified and studied without diminishing the art and craft in any way. Whether your story works or not doesn’t make it (or you) good or bad. If it doesn’t work, YOU are not the problem: the problem is the problem. This is a works/doesn’t-work decision and a highly iterative process. Don’t rush it. Especially for your first few novels, this can take more time than you want it to. (It always does for me.)
Content editing is the next level lower in granularity. Some writers want to zoom down to this level and bypass the hard work of story development. Resist the temptation. Go back up and make sure your story works before you begin polishing your prose. Content editing is a process of evaluating and improving (it’s always possible/necessary, sorry!) the story elements in your work through the use of characterization, voice, and pacing at the paragraph and sentence level. This is a more thematic approach to insure all of the pieces of your story are aligned with the message(s) you’re trying to deliver. Yes, you’re delivering a message—even in a fun fantasy story, there needs to be a point for the reader.
This is the stage where we make sure that your characters and other parts of the story have names and descriptions that make sense. This is where we deal with your wooden or cliched characters and scenes. We make dictionaries and taxonomies and vocabularies (even in a contemporary setting!). And this is where the world-building is tested to make sure that it all serves the story well. I can absolutely help you with this, and Story Grid is developing beta version tools for assessing content at this level that I’m happy to deploy on your behalf.
Here we’re in a the custom quote territory. Let’s start with some face-to-face Story Consulting and I’ll give you some free sample edits for a chapter or two so you can get a sense of what a full content edit would be like.
Copy/Line Editing & Proofreading (a.k.a. Stuff I Don’t Do)
Deeper than content, copy editing or line editing is evaluating and improving your line-by-line writing and metaphor for consistency of voice, grammatical correctness, etc. I’ll be honest. This isn’t my forte. I’ll probably introduce you to some friends of my who are FABULOUS copy editors and recommend that you work with them. I always hire someone else to do this for me in my own books. You’ve gotta play to your strengths and build the right team around you to handle your weaknesses. I do.
Proofreading is always the last step in the editing cycle to make sure that no commas, apostrophes, or God-forbid, actual words (like pronouns or articles) are missing. This isn’t my jam. I know some badass proofreaders who never miss a jot or a tittle and I’m happy to introduce you to them. I always hire someone else to do this for me in my own books. Always. I only barely know what a jot or a tittle is.