02/28 – Diana McCollum

Saturday, September 14, 2019

What Editors Wish Writers Knew by Julie Cameron

When I meet with a new client, one of the first things I am asked about is the difference between a Content Editor and a Copy Editor. Writers who decide to self-publish are particularly confused about when, and if, they need to hire different editors at each phase of the publishing process.

In a nutshell, I explain it like this:

A Copy (or Line) Editor checks for grammar, word usage, punctuation, and syntax, and is the last step before final proofreading (which is formatting, or typesetting, the manuscript for publication). The Copy Editor will check for typos, misspellings, missing or extra words, and will work to make sure the sentences flow smoothly and are well-written.

The Content (or Development) Editor is all about the story, and should be the first stop in editing the manuscript. Does the plot make sense? Is the timeline consistent? Are the characters believable and likable? Does the pacing flow throughout? Is the narrative consistent? The Content Editor works closely with the writer to make important changes to the structure of the manuscript before moving on to the other phases of editing.

Think of the Copy Editor as the logical part of the brain, making sure everything is technically correct about your manuscript. Whereas, the Content Editor is the creative part of the brain, making sure the manuscript has the right feel and imagination to it.

The confusing part comes in because these two different editing roles can sometimes blend into each other.

I grew up with a mother, a grandmother, and three great-aunts who all taught English, so I know a thing or two about grammar and sentence structure. This means that, although I am a Content Editor, I will also make note of “wonky” sentences, or correct grammatical errors when I see them, even though my focus is at a higher level on Point of View, Plot Structure, and Character Arc.

This doesn’t mean that, because I found a few mistakes in grammar, the writer doesn’t need a Copy Editor for fine-tuning to be sure the manuscript is as clean as possible before publishing. Both editors have a specific role, and focus on different aspects of the manuscript.

Writers might also be tempted to use Beta Readers instead of a Content Editor. This is not a bad way to go, provided you have experienced readers who know what they are doing. Too often writers send out to Beta Readers who are basically providing a short review and not necessarily an in-depth critique of the entire work. Beta Readers are a great step after content editing to give the writer an idea of how the book might be received to an audience. But they aren’t necessarily a successful replacement for a good Content Editor.

Bottom line: Please don’t cut corners! There are far too many books and e-books out there already that were rushed to publication, and it shows. Don’t be that author.

And one more thing… You are not an “aspiring” writer. 
You. Are. A. WRITER!

BIO:Julie Cameron is an award-winning author and screenwriter of contemporary romance and romantic comedy. She sits on the Boards of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers (RMFW) in Colorado, and Writer’s Guild of Astoria in Oregon.  She is a member of multiple professional writers' organizations.

As a content editor, writing coach and instructor through her company, Landon Literary, Julie is also a member of Independent Book Publishers Assn. (IBPA), Colorado Independent Publishers Assn. (CIPA), and Northwest Editor’s Guild.

When she isn’t writing or working with clients, Julie enjoys spending time with her family, friends, and fellow authors in the literary community.


Diana McCollum said...

Julie, great blog post.

What type of editing do you suggest for a self-pub who doesn't have a ton of money to spend?

Judith Ashley said...

Julie, Thank you for being our guest at Romancing The Genres and providing our readers is such a clear picture of the difference and importance of editors and editing. I've used a couple of different Content Editors and each has also done Copyediting so I will admit it had gotten a bit confusing. In your bio you mention "screenwriter" and we'd love it if you mentioned a bit about how that happened!

Julie Cameron said...

Great question, Diana!

As a self-published author myself, I am faced with that very same question with each new book I write. Luckily, I have a wonderful Content Editor and coach who has been invaluable to me, and has worked with me on cost. I will always recommend that you hire a good Content Editor to work with you, but perhaps you could work out a barter system? I have a friend who helped me with my website in exchange for editing her book. Do you have something you could trade? Or maybe you can work out a payment plan?

I realize that I am biased, being a Content Editor myself, but I strongly believe a writer -- self-published or traditional -- should not skip (or skimp) on the content editing phase. You WILL pay for it in the end with bad reviews, and there's no good way to come back from that!

Hope that helps!

Best of luck with all your writing endeavors, Diana!


Julie Cameron said...

Hi, Judith

Thanks for asking about the screenwriting. I actually started out writing screenplays -- my first novel Christmas Spirit started out as a screenplay. But when I realized that I would lose the story rights if I sold the screenplay, I decided to turn it into a novel because, by then, I had become attached to my characters and the storyline. I figured, how hard could it be to "plop" it all into novel-form?

It was an entirely different world!

I hired my first Content Editor to tell me what he thought of the new novel and he told me, "Yep, you write like a screenwriter." He worked with me on Point-of-View (and everything else), and I have been working with him ever since.

That very first screenplay is currently with a management company being pitched as a feature film, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it shows up during the holiday season in the next couple of years.

I love to write both novels and screenplays (I think it's the Gemini in me). If I get stuck in a storyline, I switch to writing it as a screenplay (and vice versa) which helps me look at things from a different perspective.

Do what you love! Right?


Lynn Lovegreen said...

Great advice, Julie! Thanks for the post.

Sarah Raplee said...

Thank you for all the information. I like the idea of bartering when money is in short supply. Editing your own work is nigh unto impossible!

AmorinaRose said...

Great post

CheriMerz said...

Julie, thanks for clearing this up for me! I was about to blur the lines in my first content edit, and as you've already pointed out, I'm seriously underpriced for either.

Crossing my fingers for seeing your feature film soon!

Julie Cameron said...

A huge and heartfelt thank you to all of you for the positive comments and great questions!