Parlez-Vous Editing?

A couple years ago I had an unpublished author approach me about editing her manuscript (a memoir). She had found me through my website, so naturally I assumed she’d, you know, read at least some of the content there before making the decision to contact me.

Nonetheless, I did what I always do—I told her that first we’d need to determine what kind of editorial work she had in mind. To start that discussion, I gave her links to some of my blog posts: the one about what I mean when I say I’m an editor, and my two-parter on the publishing process (here’s part 2), which incorporates the terms I have used as long as I’ve worked in the publishing industry.

Like developmental editing.

And copyediting.

I know, I know: different publishers use different terms. So let me make it clear what I’m talking about.

Developmental / Substantive / Macro / Content editing
This is big-picture stuff: plot, characterization, pacing, structure, and so on. (In nonfiction the big picture would be organization, logic, completeness, and more.) The editor reads the manuscript (I read it twice), then writes up a set of editorial notes for the author, who acts upon them as revisions to the manuscript.

Line / Copy editing
Actually, this can be two separate processes in some houses: 1) a line edit to make the writing more beautiful, more elegant, including word tweaks and sentence improvement, and 2) a copyedit which covers all the grammar, punctuation, and anything else to make the manuscript consistent with U.S. publishing standards. This is where the Chicago Manual of Style comes into play. When I do a copyedit, I’m looking at both these processes. Sometimes the edit might be described as light, medium, or heavy.

No matter what you call it, one process deals with the intellectual content and one with the words used to convey / describe the content.

It should be noted that none of these terms covers me rewriting your book. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a writing collaboration. A coauthoring agreement. Ghostwriting, if you will. I can do and have done this sort of work, but it generally involves my name being on the cover. :) But if you’re looking for a rewriter because you still need help with composing sentences and paragraphs (like this author), you should probably hook up with a writing coach before you start paying for professional editing. I have some folks I can recommend.

So what happened with the memoirist? you ask.

Many, many e-mails were exchanged. Sample chapters were provided to me for assessment. She’d decided she wanted a developmental edit but when it came time for me to quote a fee, I suggested a “heavy copyedit”—I would tweak and otherwise improve the writing and check grammar, and so on. Judging from her sample chapters, I felt she had a handle on her content—after all, it was her life story—and her writing, in the sample I saw, was serviceable. And as I say on my website, “A good copyeditor can offer a critique of a manuscript (a short developmental commentary) as she copyedits.”

You can imagine my surprise when the client-that-never-was announced she’d lost confidence in me because I didn’t use the correct terminology. “My research,” she wrote, “says developmental editing is the editor polishing and rewriting the manuscript in a more descriptive and emotional manner.”

Um, wait. She’d never once mentioned wanting someone to rewrite her material; she’d been using the term developmental edit. And so had I. But we were not speaking the same language.

I checked my e-mail; yes, I had discussed all this with her. So I told her I thought maybe it was just semantics; I reminded her of our earlier correspondence. I sent her links from reputable people in the industry (Janet Grant, Rachelle Gardner, Steve Laube); she countered with an EzineArticles.com piece (and you know how I feel about crowd-sourced content).

But no, that was it. One of us was confused (possibly both). Nonetheless, I’m sticking to my definitions—they’re all I know.

Tweet: Parlez-vous editing? This is what you need to know.
Tweet: Different publishers use different terms. So let me make it clear what I’m talking about.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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4 Comments

  1. Carol Welsh says:

    Hey Jamie! I have nominated you for the Beautiful Blogger Award! Please visit http://carolwelsh.wordpress.com/category/awards-2/ for more information.

  2. Marti Pieper says:

    As far as I can tell, your descriptions are standard stuff (well, maybe except for stellar sources like e-How (maybe it was Hee-haw?) and Wikimakeitupipepedia. I love the way you lay it out for your clients, Jamie. Doing the same thing has cost me at least one assignment within the year, but I kept my conscience clear.

    Somehow, I’m confident you’re doing the same.

    • Jamie says:

      Marti, when it becomes as much work as this one was, I know that’s a client I don’t need. Altho I confess I sat there with my mouth open when she told me I didn’t know what I was talking about! (giggle)

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