I’m frequently asked what type of editing I do. That’s kind of a trick question, because there are no operational definitions when it comes to editing. What I call “substantive,” someone else might call “structural.” What I call “developmental,” someone else might call…something else.
Editing falls into numerous categories, from macro – the strategic flow of a document or manuscript – to micro (copy editing and proofreading). As with writing, I’m capable of doing all of these, and over the course of my career, I’ve done all of them, but my strength and preference are for the types of editing that focus on the overall arc of the material, as well as how the writing technique supports the story.
Developmental Editing is kind of like being a text therapist. My job is to discover what the text wants to say, and how it wants to say it. A client generally has a large volume of material but isn’t sure what to do with it. I’ll assess a number of factors, including content (the biggie), style, pacing, voice, narrative (showing vs. telling), etc. What’s the potential here? What are the strengths and weaknesses in the writing, and what does that tell me about the author’s relationship to the material? Where should the focus be? Is this one book or several? Where is the author’s passion and energy best reflected? How does the material need to be organized to best serve the story? What’s missing? What could be amped up or cut?
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Substantive editing may or may not be structural. Typically, a manuscript is in at least draft form at this stage. I’ll review it and evaluate story structure, flow, character development (yes, this matters in nonfiction, too), writing strengths and weaknesses, verbal microexpressions, etc. Then I’ll give you guidance on how to make the writing stronger.
All three types of editing culminate in a comprehensive feedback document that addresses the relevant questions, as well as areas in which the writing is strong and those in which it needs work. In addition, I provide a marked-up version of the original document, so you can see examples of where you’ve used certain techniques effectively – and also, so I can illustrate some of the weaker areas that I cover in the feedback document. Because authors often have questions after receiving feedback, all editing services includes an hour-long meeting on Skype to discuss my comments and how best to proceed.
Book doctoring is a hybrid of substantive editing and ghostwriting. I review a manuscript in a manner similar to the way described above, but rather than showing the author the issues and explaining how to fix them, I make the changes myself; I rewrite problematic areas and, if necessary, write new sections or chapters. This usually involves ongoing collaboration with the named author.
Ghostwriting starts before a single word is written. A well-known person or subject-matter expert has an idea for a book but doesn’t have the skills and/or time to transform them into readable narrative. I conduct a series of interviews with the named author (and, if necessary, other people relevant to the story), and from that material, I write the book from scratch, in the voice, tone and syntax of the named author. As I’ve written elsewhere, it’s kind of like being an actor, but in writing. The named author always has the final say on both content and style, though I’ll always advocate for what I believe best serves the material and the author’s intention.
In addition, collaboration or co-authoring can refer to either ghostwriting or book doctoring, or it can refer to a project that is truly co-designed from the start.
As you can see, there are overlaps between the different services. If you’re not sure what you need, let’s talk, and we can figure it out together. My intention is to help each client communicate their material in the format and language that best serves the audience.
Image: (c) Can Stock Photo