Editing: It’s more than Passing Time!

Hi, all. Sher here. I’ve been so busy getting our house ready to sell and getting it on the market here (kids are gone so we’re downsizing), I’ve had trouble making time to write. Editing gets a higher priority than writing because I love reading. And I love reading books without errors, or at least as few as possible. I made it my mission to help authors reach their publishing goals with clean copy. That means I have to charge low rates because most writers aren’t independently wealthy. 

It’s not every day you get to toot your own horn, so I decided to repost part of the interview I did for Ellie Garratt, SF and horror author. Yes, I know my blog is kidlit oriented, but I edit other fiction and love SF. I had the honor of copy editing Ellie’s short story collection, Passing Time, and I’m thrilled with the reviews on Amazon so far. Ellie is the kind of client editors drool over–easy to work with and eager to learn. I hope more readers find Ellie with the release of her next book, which I’ll be editing sometime in June if all goes well.

If you want to see me as Queen Borg and find out what else I do when I’m not writing or editing, you can read the rest of the interview on Ellie’s Blog.

The following questions and answers concern different types of editing. If you’re like most writers, including me before I started editing, the difference is as clear as mud. Maybe I can clean up your understanding like I clean up problems in books. At least I hope so.

Here we go with Ellie’s questions and my answers:

Q:  You were brave enough to offer me developmental editing for my first short story collection earlier this year. What does developmental editing mean?

Any given story could go a number of different ways, but all are not equal when it comes to creating excitement, mystery, tension, and inability to put the book down until the story is finished. Given a story that doesn’t take off, a developmental editor seeks to make the plot, pacing, characterization, and everything else work together. It might take rearrangement or adding elements to design a story structure that zooms along like a spaceship through uncharted and dangerous territory. You might scream the whole way. But you land out of breath and anxious to take another ride. Even if I come into the book in the copy editing phase, I may offer some key developmental suggestions. Sometimes small changes in plot or structure (moving where an incident or revelation falls within the story) can make a huge difference in reader satisfaction. Some authors take the suggestions, others don’t. I loved working with you because you did.

Q: What services as an editor do you offer?

I’m explaining because definitions vary. And I’m going backwards, from details to big picture, because many writers hire me at the last minute before publishing. It’s late, but I do my best to make up for all the editing stages they missed.

Proofreading: Many writers think they need nothing more than fixing typos. My ability to spot errors of all kinds finally made me realize I should share that talent. This includes spacing, fonts, missing italics, etc. in the print galley or eBook. A once over by anyone won’t catch every error, so I read at least twice. With indies, I don’t usually get the chance to proof after typesetting, which is when proofing should be done to catch any errors missed during copy editing along with errors made during the book design. I always hope writers make every correction I suggest and that the designer corrects any conversion problems. My rates are very low, but I charge more per word for proofreading if I wasn’t hired for editing earlier. That’s because I have to correct more things which should have been done during copy and line editing. I often find problems that go deeper than either can fix. If I’m proofing an ebook that needs substantial changes, I’ll suggest going back to the text document to make them. Those who hire a book designer should make sure to get both an eBook formatted text document and a print formatted text document. PDF is not easy to change.

Copy editing: This is where I check the document to make sure it follows the rules. I look for spelling, grammar, syntax, and…what did I miss? Oh, yes, punctuation! Lack of “comma sense” is the bane of most writers. Few can tell the difference between subordinating conjunctions (don’t need commas) and coordinating conjunctions (need commas only if the following coordinate clause is independent). The exception is for clarity. Style rules count as well. I use the Chicago Manual of Style as well as the dictionary. I use track changes, make comments the first time I see a particular mistake, and if I see problem areas, I send links to the rules. They are different for American and British writers, most notably for spelling and single vs. double quotes and placement of punctuation marks for quoted material. Checking for consistency is also part of copy editing.

Line editing: Many editors don’t differentiate between copy and line editing. They’re hard to separate because they’re both detail oriented. But line editing goes deeper into style and clarity, things that make your writing flow and make sense. All of the copy editing rules can be right, yet repetition, unclear wording, telling versus showing, head-hopping (POV slips), and poor ordering can make reading difficult. I charge the same hourly rate for line editing as copy editing, and I do both at once if a writer comes to me for copy editing. It may take more than one back and forth to correct everything. Again, I often find problems that require substantive line editing, which can be the same as developmental editing. See below.

Content/Developmental editing/Substantive line editing: Some editors separate these, but I don’t. Book failures can happen when writers skip this phase. The main character needs a goal and problem with both internal and external conflict keeping the goal out of reach. Saggy middle is another problem. Story structure is important. Incomplete plot arc is a common mistake—authors leave too many loose ends, especially in series books. When you’re comparing editors, make sure whether you’ll receive notes within the text (if it’s called substantive line editing, you’ll get notes within the text) or just an editorial letter. There’s a big difference between somebody pointing out a hole in a sweater and somebody who helps you thread the needle and guides your hands until you get the hang of it. I try to keep my costs low, so if there’s time, I make a suggestion in a specific spot and let the author try to fix the problem. When I reword, I try to keep the author’s voice and tone. Some writers use a good critique group or beta reader as content editor. Both would be better. I’ll find far fewer problems and charge less than otherwise.

Q: You taught me an incredible amount. What would be the key piece of advice you would offer someone before they submitted their work for publication?

Thanks! Please, please, don’t think your significant others, friends, co-workers, or anyone with whom you have a personal relationship can distance themselves enough to give an honest opinion of your writing (even if they hate you) or that they have the skill necessary to find and fix the problems a trained editor can. You can’t afford not to use a professional editor if you want your book to garner high reviews and sell well.

Thanks for inviting me to do this interview. I hope it sways a few more writers to use an editor. Believe me, your readers will notice. My contact info is on my card below.

If you’d rather use my contact form than phone, it’s on my website
I do free author hosting on my book blog (limited to kidlit up through YA).
I’d be honored to follow you back on twitter as @sherahart.
I’d love to have you like my Sher A Hart page on Facebook.
On Google+, I will circle writers back as Sher A Hart.

I hope that helps. Just remember, sometimes it takes more than one pass to clarify things. And definitions are not the same between all editors. So if you find a developmental editor who calls it content editing or substantive line editing, feel free to scream. And if you just forget, come back and refresh your memory. Thanks for visiting, and I’d love to hear your comments. That includes if you know someone who wants to buy our house!

Share A Heart

Indie author-friendly freelance editor, children's book blogger for picture books through YA, kid lit, SF/fantasy lover with special fondness for middle grade, pun-loving SCBWI member, meter-maid for poetry and rhyming picture books.


  1. As one of your CPs, I can testify to your ability to spot problems in my writing. Some of your suggestions have strengthened my story considerably and you always catch my POV errors. Now all I need is for your house to sell so you have more time for editing.

    Thanks, Sher.

  2. I give credit to anyone that loves to edit! 🙂 It sounds like you are helping lots of people and I have heard such great things about Ellie and Passing Time. Awesome interview!

    Best of luck selling your house.

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