Editing and proofreading of a novel: what is the difference and when are they needed?
Among the great “existential dilemmas” that are most frequently found in the online communities of writers, there are those related to editing and proofreading a novel. What is the difference? Which of the two is more important? If you rely on a freelancer, how much should it cost? And above all: do I necessarily need it for my book?
Faced with these questions, the discussion usually continues for dozens of messages, in truth often in an inconclusive way, because, in the variegated and bizarre world of publishing, everyone has their opinions and often tends to support them with fervent passion, to regardless of the arguments of others and, sometimes, of the same facts.
When I happen to read such self-referential debates, it makes me think that a writer who does not know the topic well risks not understanding anything or, worse, making the wrong ideas. I think it’s a good thing to make some clarity on editing, proofreading and good company, perhaps starting from the most classic of questions:
“I will have re-read my novel ten times, I have corrected everything that had to be corrected, it is already so perfect, why should another guy put his hand in it?”
Dearest, I have no doubt that you can be very good at writing and more than scrupulous at rereading. But, speaking from personal experience, working on the text we wrote ourselves implies a “biased” vision that can lead us to very clearly notice the specks in one eye but to forget about the proverbial beam.
And if you really think you are the most ruthless and inflexible judge of your own writing, working at length on the same text often leads us (and unintentionally) to a selective and absent-minded re-reading, while what we really need is a revision “to clear mind “that only a figure outside our creative process can do.
“And oh well, but I have not yet understood what the difference is between correction and editing, not to mention all those other big words …”
“Proofreading” means cleaning up the text prior to publication, to free it from typing errors. Correcting proofs of a text requires a detached vision, all focused on hunting down typos (and, therefore, disinterested in stylistic issues, internal coherence, plot and characters), therefore it should be the last operation that takes place on the content of a book.
Do you need it? I have no doubt about this: surely. You can also be a spelling champion, but all 10 of the themes in Italian and the humanities of the world cannot give you guarantees of encountering the fateful misprint that will instead be discovered and pitilessly placed by the picky reviewer on duty.
For “Editing” we are referring instead to the work of revising the text in all its aspects: it is therefore not only a matter of looking at spelling errors and typos, but at the coherence of the plot, characterization of the characters, reading rhythm, style and whatever.
This is a work that requires a certain type of literary skills, which can hardly be improvised, and which needs due time. The term “Editing” is by its very definition generic, and since it is not a work regulated by precise parameters, there are different nuances, which change according to the interlocutor.
In general, by Formal Editing (or Light Editing) we mean a work that does not touch the contents, but the style of the text in general, in order to make the reading more fluid and to smooth out any stylistic differences in the course of the text, which they are much more common than one can imagine.
Content editing, or “structural”, suggests instead changes at the level of the actual contents, that is the heart of a book.
If a scene or paragraph is judged to be superfluous, it will be suggested to “cut it” altogether; on the contrary, if there is no logical connection between one event and another, it will be advisable to modify the plot directly. If a character is deemed poorly characterized, the editor will evaluate the appropriate changes, net of the relationship with the other characters.
If the treatment of a theme is considered clumsy or partial, the editor will guide us in adding the “missing pieces”. In short: it is a question of making the book more attractive, in particular for the relevant public.
“Hmm, I understand, but if I want to feel comfortable what do I need for my novel?”
Eh, this is the famous one million dollar question: I can’t tell you without having read at least one excerpt (a service that falls under the heading of “first free consultation” and about which, if interested in learning more, find more information and the form to contact us on our editorial services page). As a general indication, I can say that:
The proofreading, I’ve already written it but it doesn’t hurt to remind you, it ALWAYS serves.
Formal / light editing is very important for most novels, because even for an expert writer it is not easy to maintain homogeneity in the writing style.
Content / structural editing is certainly the most “delicate” because it is comparable to a surgical operation, working on the “heart” of the text, so it must be entrusted to an expert and scrupulous person. That said, it’s what can make the difference between a good novel and a great novel (or a masterpiece!)
Generally speaking, a narrative text requires more work than a non-fiction one, a “gender” text requires more specific competences than a more mainstream one and the more the author has taken care of in the writing and revision phase, the less the work will be necessary during editing.
“Oh well, but do I have to turn to a professional? You know, as it is, there is a crisis … “
It is not said that it is necessary to spend money, especially if your intention is not self-publishing but to propose the text to a publisher (who, if serious, will deal with editing or at least the correction). That said, I have to repeat myself: maybe your novel already seems perfect to you, but trust me: an external evaluation is fundamental, always.
If you want, even a voluntary beta reader may suffice, but make sure that your judgment is relentlessly honest, because fake compliments make you very little.
On the other hand, it is also true that it is not enough to open the wallet to guarantee a good result: unfortunately there are editors who promise seas and mountains and then they limit themselves to making the author happy (which is not their job, on the contrary: a good editor should piss him off, at least at the beginning: D) correcting the bare minimum; then there are “hard and pure” editors who go too far with changes, to distort the author’s thinking.
In short, one thing is sure: correction and editing of a novel are not to be underestimated: if well done they can make a difference, but if neglected or entrusted to the wrong person can compromise your literary effort. I therefore believe that, even before money, the author (especially if he is a self-publisher) has to invest a little time to get informed on the web and choose the professional he does for him. I always recommend consulting the “Freelance” section on Writer’s Dream; if then you trust the undersigned, maybe even take a look at our editorial services and, if you like, ask us for a quote: that’s always free.