What Do Editors Do?
There are so many different types of editors that it makes sense that many of us have grown quite confused! The editor of a newspaper is responsible for the overall content from day to day and week to week. An "acquisitions editor" at a publisher is in charge of finding new projects to publish. A copy editor corrects punctuation and spelling. These are totally different worlds.
In the world of writers - the world you are in - different terms for editors get used like a tossed salad, sometimes meaning this and sometimes meaning that. Do you need a "book doctor" or a "writing coach?" Do you need a "substantive edit" or simply a manuscript evaluation? Do you always need a copy editor?
To add to the confusion, increasingly, editors who specialize in copy editing (defined below) are now expanding into offering developmental and substantive editing. Some say that an editor should stay in their lane. If you are great at copy editing, a very technical skill, you may not have had much experience with story, narrative, and character. If there is a great story editor out there who is also excellent at copy editing - well, that's a blue-footed booby as far as I am concerned.
Personally, I stay in my lane. I look at the big picture and sheer entertainment value of a story. I take it as an important duty to preserve and highlight the unique voice of each writer, not to be overly pedantic. This is why I prefer to jump in with a manuscript evaluation ahead of anything else.
My understanding of how stories work, whether they be fiction or narrative non-fiction, is deep and hard-won through years of doing my job and by being published myself. For what it's worth, here are my definitions of the various types of editors floating around out there specifically for writers, and what they actually do:
Substantive editing is a nuts-and-bolts type of editing in which the editor goes into your document and, using the "track changes" function in Word, corrects and makes changes to things like inconsistencies of tense usage, missing logic, extraneous text, missing dialogue tags and repetitive word or phrase use. The client is then responsible for “accepting” or “rejecting” these changes using Word. This is not an evaluation of your writing overall, or where the book fit into the marketplace, nor is it a lesson about how to write. This is picking up a wrench, lifting the hood and simply making improvements.
If you are an experienced writer, this can be a wonderful type of edit. OR you might feel that your "voice" will be tampered with in a Substantive Edit - and you might be right. This is not a copy edit, this is not about correcting punctuation. This is smoothing out a read to make it better. Substantive editing is best for writers with a finished manuscript that they want to make sure is as perfect as it can be before it goes to a copy editor.
Developmental editing is big picture editing, taking into account your story, characters, and narrative. This type of editing isn't "editing" as much as it is coaching. A developmental edit should include feedback and comments about various elements of your manuscript but it should also include project management, deadlines, and accountability. Developmental editing is great for writers who have an idea and maybe even a few chapters written, but need to get on track, with ongoing feedback and support. In other words, this type of editing happens with a WIP - a work in progress, not a finished manuscript.
PLEASE NOTE: I no longer accept developmental editing clients. But do provide consulting and coaching ala carte.
Copy editing is very technical. It corrects spelling, grammar, punctuation, and usage. This process assures consistency of hyphenation, capitalization, and numbers. Copy editors adhere to established style guides like the CMOS and should be returned to you with a style guide. When your manuscript is copy edited, it should be 100% error-free, and ready to be queried or published independently. This is the absolute LAST step in your process. Do not get your work copy edited until you are SURE you are done.
PLEASE NOTE: I do not provide copy editing.
Story or Content Editing
This is where it gets tricky. What does this really mean? Does this mean your work will be changed on your behalf, or does this mean you'll be coached and taught about how stories work? Ask a lot of questions.