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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 Ask 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:

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. There’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.

Line 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.

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.

Ramona 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?



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