Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – Guest Writer – Demystifying the Levels of Fiction #Editing (a bit) by Sarah Calfee

Delighted to welcome a new guest writer to the blog. Sarah Calfee is an editor specialising in Romance novels. In her first post, she is demystifying the various elements of book editing, so that you can select the service that is most beneficial to you and your book.

Demystifying the Levels of Fiction Editing (a bit) by Sarah Calfee

Just imagine, you’ve written a cozy murder mystery you’d like to indie publish. You’re thinking, maybe I could use a proofread. You’re thinking, I’ll just type “editor” into google … suddenly, you’re facing a rabbit hole the size and depth the Mariana Trench.

Now, assuming you didn’t faint, you’re still facing a multitude of terms like: book doctoring, manuscript critique, developmental editing, content editing, substantive editing, stylistic editing, line editing, copyediting, proof-editing, proofreading. But it’s all going to be okay, though, because, lucky you, you have me here as your geeky editing guide.

(Disclaimer, my own definitions will vary from others and I won’t be explaining them exactly in the correct order of actual editing practice!)

Let’s begin with “proofreading” the term most people know—and believe they have an accurate definition for. Here is what a traditional proofreading actually means: for the love of God, DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING. Just make sure that the punctuation, spelling, and grammar are okay and get the f**k out, cause making changes usually introduces more errors. So, basically a proofreading is the last and final edit that your manuscript should receive, and it’s really only about minor details.

There are two major sides to writing a solid novel—one is prose and the other story structure, and so it follows that there are two main editing levels that address these areas specifically.

For editing actual writing (paragraphs, sentences, words, grammar and punctuation), you’ll find proof-editing, copyediting, line editing and stylistic editing. Here are my quick and easy, possibly over simplified, definitions.

Proof-editing: this is the love-child of a copy edit and proofread, which might occur when the manuscript needs more work than the editor or author originally expected. Or sometimes it’s just the type of edit some editors actually mean when they offer a proofreading service.

Copy editing: the rules of grammar and punctuation are generally applied—or purposefully ignored—and consistency is the number one priority, and these consistency choices are recorded on a style sheet. For example, is the spelling choice whiskey or whisky? Numbers—spelled out or numerals? Should certain words be hyphenated, open or closed? Oxford comma?

Light, medium, heavy copy editing: I don’t know. I really don’t. My guess is it has something to do with how far an individual editor is prepared to take an edit, and also how much work a manuscript actually needs.

Line or stylistic edit: these two terms are synonymous. The edit is all about communicating clearly with your reader while retaining your voice. Many editors won’t actually change the text during a line or stylistic edit much themselves but instead comment on issues like wordiness, or suggest deleting/revising repeated words and phrases, or they might ask the author to clarify a scene if, for example, at the beginning a new location isn’t stated or perhaps not all characters present are mentioned.

Copy and line editing: many freelance editors provide this service together. You’ll find some editors who swear that both these services could never be performed at the same time and done properly, while others always mean both with their offer of a “copy edit.”

While all the definitions for editing prose do vary, the many terms for editing story structure—book doctoring, manuscript critique, developmental editing, content editing, substantive editing—pretty much all mean the same thing in my opinion.

What this type of edit does, besides the tightening of the sphincter muscles, is ask an author to potentially revise and even rewrite chunks of their manuscript. This is done with an editorial report—about ten to twenty-five pages long—which will comment on plot, the subplots, the characters, their individual arcs, goals, motivation, conflict, tension, resolution … and quite a bit more.

Some developmental editors (my favorite term) may additionally offer a “scene list” where a short summary of each scene is recorded, chapter by chapter. In the actual manuscript, there should also be comments and examples where the developmental editor can support their editorial report in more detail.

There is one main difference in this terminology—a manuscript critique is only an editorial report and the manuscript itself will remain untouched.

Hopefully, this guide has demystified the fiction editing levels (a bit!) and armed you with enough baseline knowledge to prepare you for an expedition into that Mariana Trench-sized rabbit hole.

©Sarah Calfee 2019

About Sarah Calfee

I was born in Quebec, Canada, lived in the USA for twenty years (Baton Rouge, Orlando, Chicago), and spent two years in Dublin, Ireland. For the past nine years, I’ve lived in London and loved it. Living on both sides of the pond has given me an excellent ear for both American and British English. This means I can help characters swear authentically in either idiom. You’re welcome!

Why am I an editor?

Because I’m a total story addict, and it’s a fun way to support both my habit and my family. The reason I became a romance specialist is because there are many different genre-specific story structures with different plot points (or beats) to follow, and I wanted to become an expert in one. This allows me to help romance authors with the intricacies of the romance story structure—which never ever gets boring because…romance subgenres. (I love them all!)

If you’re an author with a manuscript that features love with oh-so-many reasons the couple just can’t be together, only to have them find their happily ever after at the end—you’ve come to the right place. Whatever your preferred subgenre (historical mysteries, friends to lovers, romantic suspense) or favorite type of heroine or hero, I can help you and your book reach your very own HEA.

To find out whether I’m the right editor for you, please contact me for a free sample edit.

• 500 to 800 word line/copy edit
• Email correspondence
• Fee assessment

You can find out more about Sarah Calfee and the services that she offers:

Connect to Sarah


Sarah would be very happy to answer any of your questions and it would be great if you could share the post around your own social media.. Thanks Sally.

27 thoughts on “Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – Guest Writer – Demystifying the Levels of Fiction #Editing (a bit) by Sarah Calfee

  1. This is an informative post with simple explanations on something that as Sarah says could feel like… suddenly, you’re facing a rabbit hole the size and depth the Mariana Trench.
    I like that she specializes in Romance editing. I think editors having a genre niche may make them that much better at their craft.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – Guest Writer – Demystifying the Levels of Fiction #Editing (a bit) by Sarah Calfee – ❧Defining Ways❧

  3. Pingback: Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – Weekly Round Up – Estate Agent Code, Gardening, Roast Dinners, Numerology, Italian Cookery, Editing, music and Books galore.. | Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

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