When you’re trying to decide how to publish your book, you may find that a lot of terms for various editing services differ depending on whether you’re looking at traditional publishers, indie publishers, and freelancers. A lot of variation can also occur across indie publishing and freelancers, depending on how these groups got their start and how they want to differentiate themselves from the crowd.
In this article, I explore how Dog Ear’s editing services compare with those provided by other publishers.
Let’s start with the descriptions most commonly used in traditional publishing houses.
Copyedit—In a copyedit, the manuscript is reviewed and corrected for punctuation, capitalization, spelling, verb tenses, and other grammatical errors. The editor also pays attention to continuity and clarity of the story, paragraph length, word choice, and sentence structure—in other words, anything involving the language of the text. The editor may also query any continuity or style issues that he or she cannot resolve. The changes in a coypedit may be light, extensive, or anywhere in between.
Line edit—This is very similar to a copyedit, yet it is often treated something like a step up from a copyedit. In a line edit, someone reads the manuscript thoroughly for sense and style but also for rhythm and flow, likely reading the entire manuscript aloud. The editor may also spot-check some facts in the manuscript, or perhaps all of them.
Content edit—This type of edit is also called a developmental edit or substantive edit. Traditionally, textbook publishers are most likely to perform content edits, though this service is otherwise rare. As the title implies, the content editor spends time checking and correcting the content of the book, including factual errors, contradictions, and inconsistencies in the plot, characters, timelines, and the like. The content editor sometimes organizes a chaotic—or one could say disheveled—manuscript for publication, checking whether the theme, plots, and subplots have been developed and worked well into the overall storyline. (I think of this service as the manuscript “putting its face on,” in the parlance of a previous generation.) For a textbook or other complex manuscript, a content editor may also (or instead) keep track of the text’s many needs—organizing illustrations and permissions, for example.
Proofread—For most traditional publishing houses, the proofread is performed after the book has been laid out in pages. The proofreader primarily checks for visual typsetting issues, including widows and orphans, rivers, and incorrectly formatted text. Proofreaders may also correct any grammatical or syntactical errors that catch their eyes.
Other Indie Publishers (and Freelancers)
Thanks to vague and/or “hyped” marketing language—or even lack of descriptions—it can sometimes be difficult for authors to know just what they’re going to get with some indie publishers. For example, what some service providers call a copyedit is little more than a run-through with Word’s spell-checking feature.
When in doubt, it’s always best to call or e-mail the publisher or freelancer and ask exactly what each service covers. If you get a lot of hesitancy or can’t get any straight answers, don’t be afraid to move along. There are plenty of publishers and freelancers out there, and a good one will always be able to clearly explain what you should expect from their services—no matter what terminology they use—and will also be willing to spell it out clearly in writing for you. It’s a good rule of thumb to remember that if you can’t understand the explanation from this service provider, you probably won’t get much out of a working relationship with them.
You can read the full descriptions of Dog Ear’s editorial services here.
For the purposes of the current discussion, the two key things to remember when comparing traditional services with Dog Ear’s are that (1) each of the traditional services described earlier is often a separate step and (2) the publisher determines which of the services your manuscript needs. At Dog Ear, as with most indie publishers, you choose the service level you desire for your manuscript.
Though the terminology Dog Ear uses for its service levels is sometimes the same as that used in traditional publishing, the focus of each service can be slightly, or even greatly, different from that of a traditional publisher. For example:
- A Dog Ear copyedit includes both the traditional copyedit and a line edit.
- A Dog Ear literary edit includes a Dog Ear copyedit (traditional copyedit plus line edit) and also some of a traditional content edit, such as watching for content issues (inconsistencies and plot development, for example).
- A Dog Ear development edit includes a traditional content edit (except for tracking and gaining permissions, which is a separate service), as well as the traditional copyedit and line edit.
To help you get a better feel for this, the table below shows a comparison of Dog Ear’s services to those of traditional and some other indie publishers.
Dog Ear Services Compared to Other Providers1
|Dog Ear||Other Indie Publishers2||Traditional Publishers|
|Proofread||Copyediting (CreateSpace)||Line Edit|
|Copyedit||Line Editing and/or Content Editing (Author Solutions)||Copyedit and Line Edit|
|Literary Edit||Line Editing (CreateSpace)||Content Edit and Copyedit|
|Development Edit||Editing Package Plus (CreateSpace)||Content Edit (plus Copyedit)|
1 Comparison is accurate at the time of writing, based on information found at the links provided. You should always verify with any company or provider what the service entails—and preferably have it in writing—before you agree to anything.
2 The information provided for other indie publishers uses the closest possible descriptions from the other publishers; not all services will match exactly. For example, CreateSpace always includes a letter with an edit; Dog Ear does so only for the literary critique, literary edit, and development edit.
Dog Ear Recommends
If you’ve read all of the descriptions provided here and still aren’t sure what service you should choose—from Dog Ear or otherwise—consider these recommendations (from the descriptions of Dog Ear’s editing services):
- Literary critique if you have doubts or questions about any part of your story (plot, story arc, dialogue, character development) or about your technical writing abilities, for example
Proofread if your work has already been professionally edited.
Please note: Many first-time authors are tempted to receive only a proofread because several friends have already reviewed their manuscripts. Unless those friends have been professionally trained as editors, however, they have likely not spotted less commonly known errors, potentially confusing passages, plot holes, or inconsistencies. If your text has been edited by a friend who is not a professional editor, Dog Ear recommends at least a copyedit. (To understand how a trained editor is different from someone merely good at English, refer to previous Editor’s Corner articles “How to Work with an Editor” and “What to Expect from a Dog Ear Editor.”)
A copyedit for most manuscripts. Professionally trained editors, like those at Dog Ear, have been trained to do the following:
- spot technical and grammatical errors,
- spot and correct passages that can be read or misunderstood in ways the author did not intend,
- recognize plot and character inconsistencies, and
- rearrange paragraphs to more effectively express ideas.
Dog Ear’s editors can also streamline and polish your text. We all use redundancies and “filler” words in the course of our everyday lives, but these fillers generally serve to weaken rather than strengthen written text. Dog Ear editors recognize and eliminate these to strengthen your text, going beyond ensuring that your text is simply clean and technically correct.
- Literary edit if you want your text to receive the technical and stylistic attention of a copyedit as well as the structural attention of a literary critique.
Development edit for a variety of situations and reasons:
- You have the basic text for a compelling story but want to make it more compelling.
- Friends and family who have reviewed your text have suggested, for example, that the dialogue is dull or the story is not moving quickly enough.
- You want to write a nonfiction book about a topic and know what you want to say but aren’t sure how to structure that information.
- You have set out to tell one story but found that the text took on a mind of its own and tells multiple stories—and now your’re overwhelmed and could use help splitting it up or trimming it down.
A developmental editor can help with all of these issues and more.
No matter whose services you choose, or why, it’s always best to consider the needs of both yourself and your manuscript. For example:
- How much control do you want/need to maintain over the process?
- How comfortable are you with your writing and revision abilities?
- How much “bang for your buck” do you prefer?
Really considering the answers to these questions will make it far more likely that you will choose the best publisher for you. Remember that no matter which publisher or services you choose, you should always verify what the service entails—and preferably have it in writing—before you agree to anything.