Of course, I’m not actually suggesting that editors are anything less than human, but authors are often confused by the various types of editors and edits available.
I don’t think anyone (including myself) can guarantee you a definitive answer, given that in practice there is a considerable amount of overlap between the types of editors and the work they do. However, as a general overview, I’ve broadly divided the traditional editorial process into three phases:
1. The ‘big picture’ stage: this is where you will meet commissioning (or acquiring), developmental editors and content (structural or substantive) editors. Commissioning and developmental editors buy or commission books for their publishing house and assist an author with the overall vision for a book (including marketing). Content editors work with an author on the substance and structure – for fiction, this would include areas such as character, themes, plot and pacing.
2. The ‘nuts and bolts’ stage: once the content of a book has been more or less copper-fastened, the copy or line editors take over. The scope of these editorial roles can vary and the two roles are often combined, but, essentially, both types of editors work through the actual text of a manuscript at paragraph and sentence level. Their basic function is to ensure clarity and consistency of style and format; they will check grammar, spelling and punctuation, suggest revisions or rewrites and mark up the text for the typesetters.
3. The ‘minutiae’ stage: this is the proofreading stage.
Traditionally a proofreader’s job is to compare a typeset copy of the manuscript (one that has been formatted for printing) with the final edit copy (basically the instructions to the typesetters) to ensure no errors have slipped in during the typesetting process. However, the term ‘proofreading’ is often used to describe work which is, in fact, nearer to copy-editing.
We’ll look at some of the different types of edits in more detail later on, but hopefully this clears up some of the confusion!
For more details on substantive (structural) editing, copy-editing and manuscript critiques, check out Book Nanny’s website at www.booknannyfictioneditor.com.