Substantive Editing or Copyediting? What Do You Need?

Whether you decide to self-publish or traditionally publish, it would be a good idea to have your manuscript professionally edited. What if you can’t afford to have a substantive/big picture edit AND a copy edit? Which service should you choose?

The quick answer is that you should have a substantive edit done because it’s always about the story. If you have a clean manuscript with a weak plot or flat characters, agents and readers won’t like it. If you have a stellar story but some grammar or spelling issues, agents and readers will often overlook them (to a certain extent).

However, that’s not always the best answer. It really depends on your situation. If you have a critique group and/or a set of betas readers whom you can trust to rip your manuscript apart, you might be able to skip the substantive edit and have a copy edit done instead. Just be sure you can really trust your critique group and/or beta readers. If they act as your cheerleaders instead of telling you where the manuscript is flawed, they aren’t doing you any favors. And, if they’re readers not writers, they probably don’t know as much about the writing craft, which is an important part of our industry.

On the other hand, if you don’t have critique partners or aren’t sure if they’re catching everything, you should stick with a substantive edit. While the mechanics (spelling, grammar, and punctuation) don’t have to be perfect for an agent’s eyes, the manuscript still has to be legible. Too many glaring errors will make it hard to read the text. In this case, I’d suggest waiting until you could afford both services. Self-publishing a novel or sending it out to an agent before it’s ready could be career suicide.

One last option is available to more experienced writers. I’m talking about a manuscript evaluation report, which reveals the manuscript’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s different from a substantive/big picture edit because nothing is flagged directly on the manuscript or even in the margins. You’d receive a general report that would tell you if your characters aren’t three-dimensional, if there are plot holes in the story, if the dialogue is stilted, etc. It’s up to you to locate the issues that were identified in the report and correct them. That’s why this service is better suited to experienced writers. It might be difficult for a new writer to find and fix the problem areas. However, this is a great service for someone who knows how to take constructive criticism and apply it to his manuscript without assistance. Often, an author can’t see the flaws in his work, but one he is aware of the issues, he can revise as needed.

If you’re looking for a substantive/big picture edit or a manuscript evaluation report, I have slots available in October. If you need a copy edit, I have copy editors on my editorial team who have worked with publishers like Harlequin, Carina Press, and Entangled Publishing. They are usually available on short notice.

E-mail me at: labelle at labelleseditorialservices dot com and we’ll get started.

Lynnette Labelle

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