How (and why) to keep developmental editing and copyediting separate

The Importance of Separate Developmental Editing and Copyediting Rounds

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, indie authors often want editors to combine DE and CE in one round of editing. I mentioned that one problem with doing this is the likelihood of overwhelming the author.

Another problem is the complexity. There’s no point in copyediting the first three chapters if you think the author should cut them and start with Chapter Four.

But if you don’t copyedit them and the author decides to keep them, then the novel now has three uncopyedited chapters. You could copyedit them but that undercuts your “Start with Chapter Four” recommendation.

That’s just one way in which trying to combine DE and CE functions can quickly become overly complex. Another is that asking the author to make changes in, say, a certain character’s story means that revisions will be made throughout the ms, potentially creating more problems. The new material will not have been copyedited.

The revision process always adds in errors and discrepancies. The author cuts those first three chapters and forgets to add in some necessary backstory that was deleted. A separate CE round will catch this.

For these reasons and more, I strongly discourage fiction authors from thinking they can get away with a combined DE/CE. This is especially true of beginning writers (and unfortunately, they’re the ones most likely to have small budgets).

One additional difficulty with doing a combined DE/CE is that the author will blame you when readers criticize the book. Most of us find private-pay clients through referral, which means we have to make sure our clients are happy. When we know they won’t be, we have to decline the opportunity.

Which leads me to an important point: just because someone wants our services doesn’t mean we have to provide them. We can find clients with more realistic budgets. And of course just because I discourage combining DE and CE in one go doesn’t mean you can never work this way. Sometimes we do what we have to do.

Getting Another Editorial Eye

You may be asked to provide DE and CE in separate rounds so that you avoid the major problems of trying to do both at the same time. However, I discourage this practice as well.

Having a second pair of editorial eyes on a project before it’s published is crucial to making sure egregious errors are caught. You know how it’s almost impossible to proofread your own writing—you try and try and still miss typos? The same is true when you try to do both DE and CE on the same ms, even in separate rounds. You get too familiar with the words and you overlook the problems.

Performing a Combined DE/CE

If the ms is in good shape and the author more experienced, performing a combined DE/CE might be workable, but even in that case, you should recommend that the author get at least a proofreader in to review the final ms.

I wouldn’t try to do a combined DE/CE on a manuscript that has massive development problems; a wholesale rewriting of the ms means that some threads may need further attention—which they won’t get if no other editor looks at the ms.

By the same token I wouldn’t try do a combination edit on a manuscript where the author can’t spell her own name correctly. Any changes she makes at the developmental level will include rewriting, and her inability to spell her own name will show up on the rewritten parts (the parts that no editor will ever see).

When I’m doing a DE, I don’t make a lot of edits to the actual manuscript itself; I leave that up to the author (although I will suggest phrases, etc.). In a combined DE/CE, I make more in-text edits because this simplifies the process for the author. Any edits or revisions I make will be sentence-level edits, not DE-type revision or rewriting. Developmental revisions still need to be left up to the author. But rewriting an awkwardly stated sentence is something I go ahead and do in a combined DE/CE.

Also, I try to ensure that the solutions to developmental issues I address don’t require massive rewriting, even if massive rewriting would serve the story better. This is the trade-off the author is making when asking for a combined DE/CE, and you should make the author aware of it before you get started.

I wouldn’t attempt a combined DE/CE until you have a fair amount of DE experience. I also wouldn’t attempt it unless you have extensive CE experience. Many people think they know what copyediting it is when in fact they are unfamiliar with style manuals or have never edited a manuscript to conform to one. Get that experience first.

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