There are three stages of fiction editing, and these are briefly explained below. For information about the publishing process, including the differences between traditional and self-publishing, click here .
Structural editing - also referred to as 'developmental editing' - is the first stage of the process, and is all about the bigger picture. The editor will read through a typescript, at least once, in order to understand the whole story and how everything fits together.
During a structural edit, an editor analyses narrative voice, plot and structure, point of view, the pace of the story, character definition, and the use of dialogue, whilst at the same time becoming familiar with the author's style and voice. If major structural issues are found during this process, the author will be required to make changes before copy-editing commences.
Copy-editing takes place after structural editing, and before proofreading. This involves a more in-depth check of the text before it is typeset to produce a proof copy (a trial print of the finished book).
The copy-editor will check for timing and continuity problems, loose ends in the plot, inconsistencies, irrelevant detail, factual errors, repetition, copyright and libel, as well as spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors. No major rewriting should be required at this stage, although some minor changes may be required by the author.
Proofreading is the third stage of editing, and can take place several times in traditional publishing before a book is finally printed.
The proofreader works with the proof copy, checking the text, line by line, for last-minute errors and omissions before publication takes place, paying particular attention to spelling and punctuation.
Copy-editing is a more complex job than proofreading, but both are equally important as mistakes can be missed (or even created) at the copy-editing stage. Proofreading is usually the first skill that an editor-in-training will learn.