Ask the Editor: Ramona DeFelice Long

Edith, somewhere in southern Indiana

I’m delighted to have our good friend, independent editor Ramona DeFelice Long, as our photoAsk the Editor guest today. She’s smart, funny (in that delightful southern kind of way), generous, hardworking, and has a knack for gathering people into the most intriguing of conversations. She’s also a great writer who several of us Wickeds first met at Seascape 2009. Take it away, Ramona!

The Language of Editing

Consider these scenarios:

  • You’ve finished the first draft of a novel.
  • You’ve completed a short story.
  • You’ve run your manuscript through beta readers.
  • You’re in the middle of a manuscript and hit a wall.
  • You’re considering self-publishing.
  • You’re unsure if your 100 pages have enough story for a novel.
  • You have interest from an agent and want your MS to be in its best shape possible.

The next sentence for all of these scenarios may be: Now consider hiring an independent editor.*

The question after that sentence may be: How do I know which type of independent editor to hire?

It is ironic that, in a job focused on word choice, nuance, and precision, the terms used about self-employed professional editors can be confusing. There is no helpful glossary in the back of an Editing 101 textbook—because there is no Editing 101 textbook. A person cannot go to college and earn a Bachelors of Editing degree.

Even the terms to describe editing itself are not set in stone. This is what I call editing in practice:

Editing – Editing is what a professional, paid person does when they examine a writer’s manuscript.

Revision – Revision is what a writer does when he/she works over his/her own draft of a manuscript.

Critique – Critique is what a fellow writer does to a peer’s work.

By my definitions, “self-editing” is a misnomer but “self-reviser” doesn’t have much of a ring to it, does it?

Job descriptions for the various types of independent editors can be confusing, too. good-guy-vs-bad-iclipartThere’s a notion that “hiring an independent editor” means paying someone to check out your antagonist and protagonist, streamline your plot, catch your typos, strengthen your sentences, fact check, and help you write a query—all for one low, low price.

Stop dreaming that dream. While editors do cross over, different editors perform different functions at different stages of a manuscript. This is true for the staff at a traditional publishing house, and it is true for independents. Each step of editing requires a particular skill set.

Below is a lexicon to help writers who wish to collaborate with an independent editor.

Content/Developmental Editor – examines the manuscript for structure, appeal, story logic, effectiveness of scenes, character development, flow, plotting, genre expectations, etc. A developmental editor reads for the big picture of the story—Is it logical, pleasing, and publishable?—and will make suggestions designed to create a stronger overall manuscript. Content/developmental editors work with works in progress (WIPS) as well as completed drafts.

Copyeditor – Copyeditors check tense, POV, sentence structure, redundancy, readability, character and scene consistency. A copyeditor will also fact check. A copy edit will aim for clean copy, which means removing errors in  spelling, grammar, style and syntax, as well as technical errors such as typos, missed words, and punctuation flubs.

256px-Text-x-generic-highlight-red-marker-round.svgLine Editor – No pun intended, but there’s a fuzzy line between copy and line editors. A straight line editor will read for technical errors– typos, missed words, punctuation errors, sentence by sentence–without considering bigger issues such as character development or scene value.

NOTE: Copyeditors and Line Editors are often combined as one skill.

Proofreader –  a person who reads a manuscript to catch technical errors. Sometimes a skilled amateur, a proofreader may work for pay or by barter.

Book Doctor – some people use this term interchangeably with content/development editor. A book doctor is a manuscript fixer-upper.Ghostwriter

Ghost Writer – an anonymous person who writes a book which is credited to someone else as author.

Writing Coach – a mentor who provides guidance to a writer beyond reviewing manuscripts

Beta Reader – not a professional editor and so works without pay, usually for barter. A beta reader is a skilled reader with genre familiarity, who examines the draft of a manuscript and offers a critique.

Reviewer – not an editor, but a person—professional or amateur—who shares his/her opinion of a book after it is published via trade journals, periodicals, newspapers, review sites, blogs, booksellers (Amazon & B&N).

And now for some lagniappe terms about editing:

Turnaround Date – the date you can expect the return of your edited manuscript. If an editor posts a turnaround time of one month, that’s how long the editing job will take. A writer should always ask for, in writing, a turnaround date.

Track Changes – the easy-for-editors, tedious-for-writers editing system built into Microsoft Word.

Style sheet – a publisher’s list of preferred style and syntax choices.

Acknowledgement – the “thank you” a writer includes in a published work. Some editors require a permission to be acknowledged.

Pilcrow – the paragraph mark () is used in copyediting to note a new paragraph. In Microsoft Word, a pilcrow sign appears in the tool bar. Clicking on the pilcrow shows every hidden space in a manuscript. A space between words gets a dot. A return gets a pilcrow mark. The pilcrow helps you find unnecessary spaces you can’t see. Many writers have no idea this useful function is available.

Now back to the questions at the top of the page. If you are in one of these scenarios, do you understand which type of independent editor you need to hire?

Extra credit: Did you know about the pilcrow?

*Disclaimer: I work as an independent editor. I also hire independent editors for my writing.

RamonaLogoFinalRamona DeFelice Long is an author and independent editor who specializes in mystery novels. She works with private clients as well as through organizations such as Sisters in Crime to edit chapter anthologies and teach online courses. Her own writing has appeared in literary and regional publications, and she’s been awarded fellowships, grants, and residencies from multiple arts organizations. Ramona lives in Delaware. Her literary website features a new blog post every Tuesday as well as a collection of tips for writers.

Readers: Stop in and ask Ramona questions! And how did you do on the quiz?



50 Thoughts

  1. Hi Ramona,

    I knew about the pilcrow, but when I click it in the toolbar all it marks in my text is indent and paragraph. I’ll have to check and see if I am leaving something undone.

    Again—Great blog!

  2. Thanks so much for visiting today, Ramona! Thanks for clearing up some of the mystery involved in choosing the right sort of independent editor for different purposes.

    1. Jessie, I”m so pleased to be invited. Making the decision to hire an independent editor is daunting. When you are not sure what kind you need, that’s doubly daunting. I hope this helps!

    1. Mary, do you use it?

      Some people are afraid that, once clicked on, it can never be turned off. It can, but it is a little freaky the first time you see your manuscript “pilcrowed.”

    1. Barb, I checked the etymology on

      1400-50; apparently alteration (perhaps conformed to crow1) of late Middle English pylcraft (e), perhaps < Old French paragrafe, pelagraphe paragraph

      So the word has been around a while. (I threw the French in just for you!)

  3. Patrick, there are several organizations and societies for editors and freelancers. I don’t belong to any and so can’t vouch for, or against, any particular group. Editors are listed at Preditors & Editors, so you may check there.

    My advice when looking for an independent editor is to ask your peers for a reference. Word of mouth is how I have built up my own stable of clients. The second way, from my perspective, is through teaching classes. From the author’s end, do what you’d do when seeking an agent: see who attends conferences or teaches workshops, ask fellow authors, check out acknowledgements in books. If you have an editor’s name, you can do a search on Amazon to see works they’ve participated in as an editor. This will not be a full list, however. If an author does an acknowledgement with the editor’s name, it usually pops up in the Amazon search.

    I always recommend a new client and I do a partial together–25 or 50 pages. It’s not a huge investment, and it can let you know if this editor is providing the kind of service you need, and if your styles jive.

  4. Such an awesome post. I’ve used the paragraph mark icon for years, but that’s just me. And I think I’d heard the word pilcrow in my past as a tech writer. Thanks so much for enlightening us on all kinds of terms, Ramona.

    Great question, Patrick!

    1. Thank you for the invitation, Edith! It’s been a pleasure to watch–and read–this blog grow over the past..year? You all have a terrific track record and much to share with the writing community.

  5. KB Inglee tried to post the following comment but was unable to, so I’m doing it for her.

    “This is one to print and keep in the three ring binder by my computer.”

    I agree!

  6. Great blog, Ramona! Isn’t it amazing how much has happened since we all met at Seascape! I’ve seen the pilcrow but never clicked on it!

  7. Ramona, thanks for such a good job of helping us understand the terms and roles. It does get confusing. I’m going to save this post so I can refer to it as needed.

    I knew about the Pilcrow, just not its formal name. I have it on all the time, a habit from my WordPerfect and Word for DOS days when you needed that behind-the-scenes view to properly edit some documents without screwing up other formatting.

    As someone with a ms that needs an editor, I wasn’t sure what type of editor I needed. Now, thanks to you, I do know. I always find your articles and posts and, of course, that wonderful course — Necessary Parts and PR — helpful. Thanks for sharing your time and expertise with us.

    1. Claire, I’m pleased to know the post was helpful.

      Choosing an editor is like shopping for any other service. You will not use your funds to best advantage if you don’t find exactly what you need. When I am approached by a new client, I ask that they tell me what they are looking for in the edit and if they have particular worries about the manuscript.

      That course was lots of fun–for me, anyway! I know you all worked hard.

  8. Thank you for this useful information, Ramon A fellow writer had a very frustrating time with the editor she’d hired because the editor was doing content editing when my friend really wanted and was expecting copy/line editing. She felt that the editor was being critical and picky when in fact she was simply doing a different type of editing. That taught me that it’s essential to discuss with the editor exactly what you want.

    1. Alice, I”m sorry to read about that experience. As I mentioned to Claire, it’s important to have a dialogue before you being the editing process. Be clear about what you are seeking and expect the same in return. I often have writers approach me about doing a copy edit. That’s not my area of specialty, and I say so upfront. I also try to recommend other editors better suited to what the author seeks, if I can. Don’t hesitate to ask questions. You will save time and effort for both of you.

  9. I learned a new term: Pilcrow! I always draw that symbol when editing — er, I mean REVISING 😉 — on the printed page, but I never knew it had a name beyond being the paragraph symbol!

    This is definitely a post to bookmark and share.

    1. Hi, Gigi! Thank you for the comment.

      Maybe there should be a super secret society for writers called The Pilcrow Club. We’d be the only ones who knows what it means!

  10. Hi Ramona and Wicked Cozies! I’m a huge fan of hiring an independent editor–even while published by a big 6 publisher, I found it so helpful. Finding the right person is the key…

    And it was wonderful to have you all as Seascape students. I’m in awe of how much you all have accomplished–and the way your friendships have grown along with your work!

    1. Lucy, I think the Seascape graduates are the best testimonial possible to how much good you all do, crammed into a single weekend.

      Of course I am biased, but a good author-independent editor relationship requires trust on both sides. Every time a client comes back, it strengthens the relationship. BUT–if an editor doesn’t work for an author, the author should not be afraid to amicably say this is not working, and I need to try someone else.

  11. Ramona, thanks for stopping by! What a great post. And I’ve seen the pilcrow, but never knew what the heck it was! Thanks for the tip! And yes, yes, yes to all the lovely Seascape comments. Sue, Hallie, Roberta – we couldn’t have done it without you. xo

  12. I knew about the pilcrow, but I called it the little paragraph thingy. Thank you for supplying the correct term. While reading your post, I realized I hadn’t seen any pilcrows or dots for a long time–since I switched from Word to LibreOffice, to be exact. So I turned it on. Thanks!

  13. I did not know about the Pilcrow. It will help me catch one of my huge problems, double spaces between sentences. Thank you so much.

  14. Thank you, I learned something new today. Your article was extremely helpful, Ramona. Enjoy your weekend.

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