What will I do to your manuscript?
Posted on 18th April 2019
It depends on two things: what you want me to do and what I
think your document needs. Very often work lands in my inbox and the author
hasn’t a clue what needs done. I usually get a request for a proofread because
that’s the term people are most familiar with.
Sometimes a proofread is exactly what needs done – a check that everything’s in order before the print button is pressed, but work like this will have gone through an editing stage before it comes to me. More often than not though, it’s verging into the territory of an edit of some kind.
A copy-edit goes through a document line by line looking for changes that can be made to help sentence structure, sense, consistency and overall readability. It looks at punctuation and spelling and might involve fact-checking too. It’s an intense and laborious type of work that requires full-on focus. With Track Changes on and edits shown it can look quite scary with red ink all over the place.
A developmental edit looks at the overall document. So for fiction it looks at plot, structure, themes, pace, characters, dialogue – all the big, overarching concepts that make fiction fiction. Some of the same applies to non-fiction too: are the chapters in the correct order? Do chunks need deleted? Is there anything missing that needs added? Does the book make sense?
Very often it will take an editor to point out the things that need done to get a manuscript to a publishable position. That’s why it’s great to see a document before taking work on – I can explicitly show an author what I think the text needs. Sometimes I’ll edit the first couple of pages to give the client a clearer idea of what I mean because it’s only when you see the results of an edit that you can see the difference it makes to your writing.
Of course, it’s up to the client what they want to pay for and the level of intervention they want – I can only point them in the right direction. This can mean that I proofread a piece of work that needs copy-edited – a shame really because the client isn’t producing the best piece of work and there’s only so much a proofread can do to a manuscript. Or, as was the case recently, I copy-edited a book that needed developmentally edited because the author didn’t want to do any more work to it herself. I worked with what I had to get the text into readable shape but the problems with the manuscript were at the developmental stage – namely point of view – which makes for an unenjoyable read for anyone who bought her book.