Wednesday, 18 February 2015

What’s the difference between a critique, structural editing, copy-editing and proofreading?

A critique takes a broad view of your story or novel and highlights major strengths and weaknesses and makes outline suggestions for improvement. It’s a good starting point.

Structural or developmental editing looks at all the strengths and weaknesses and helps you make changes. It’s in-depth and hands-on. It looks at the nuts and bolts of how the MS is working as a story or novel – structure, narrative arc, characterisation, plot, storylines, pace and writing style.

Once that’s done – and allow for editing to at least two drafts – it’s time for line- and copy-editing. This is where we examine the prose word by word. Yes, we pick up problems with spelling, grammar and punctuation, and ensure all-important consistency, but you’ll also be encouraged to test that every word is doing its job to the utmost. So we’ll look at vocabulary choices, naturalistic dialogue, facts, logic, repetition, minor glitches in characterisation or plot, anachronisms and verisimilitude. Do you quote a TV show of 1963 and mention its host? We check it was broadcast then and that the host is the right one. Do you write about watching events at the bottom of an unlit garden from an English home at 5 p.m. in January? We tactfully mention that might not be feasible. Do you use one expression of amazement no matter which character is speaking? We suggest you create different expressions for each character. Allow for two copy-edits.

Once you’ve checked the final copy-editing amends, you shouldn’t really be making any further revisions. But just in case you do, and most particularly to pick up any oversights or inconsistencies, the novel needs to go through a final proofread before publication, preferably by a different pair of eyes. At Fiction Feedback, whenever appropriate we use a different proof-reader from the editor.

What process when?

A critique when you’re not very experienced or confident and need some general guidance.

Structural editing when you’ve got your novel to a certain stage you’re happy with. You’ve worked on it, possibly a lot, and maybe had other input too. Now you need to hone it into something strong and beautiful.

Copy-editing is the next stage. This focuses on the prose, so it’s only done when you’re sure the structure, plot, characters, story, setting and pace are working for you 100 per cent. If you’re submitting to an agent or publisher, we recommend you go down this path only if problems with the prose are likely to be an obstacle to an editor liking the work. If you’re self-publishing, it’s essential.

Finally, proof-reading. You only need this if you’re self-publishing. Sometimes if you’ve had several drafts of copy-edits, and the last one asks you to make no further changes, it’s not necessary, although it’s always advisable. But it’s definitely not for writers who are submitting their work to agents or publishers as it’s the final stage before publication.

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