Hayley, Developmental editor
The Editing Process
I received an email today from a confused novice author that asked some very good questions, not only about the editing process in general, but how I work specifically, so I thought I would clarify for anyone else out there who is a little flummoxed, and to explain my personal process that I have developed over the past few years in my experience with novice authors, beta reading and editing.
There is so much terminology around the writing process it is easy to get in a muddle, especially when the writing community uses multiple terms for the same process, such as developmental or substantive or content editing, which are all, basically, the same thing. Some novels though, especially those of more experienced authors, may not need much in the way of developmental work.
My work often includes a combination of developmental, line editing and proofreading, if a novel is almost there, so I always evaluate a manuscript first, with a free time-trialled sample beta read and edit, so I can quote specifically for each project. Each one is different and subjective. Let me clarify the terminology as best I can for you.
Beta reading is when an unpublished manuscript is read by your expected consumers, and much of the time this is done for free. Beta readers then tell you how they feel about the story, the characters and more besides, it all depends how experienced they are. It is a way of getting feedback to see what people like and don't like, and if there are major plot holes, if they like the ending, that sort of thing. It is sometimes done after editing, but I find most people use it for the pre-editing stage, more an alpha read, but the titles are quite interchangeable. I often, and am happy to, alpha read, but my advice is to polish it yourself as best you can, draft and self-edit until it is the best you can make it alone, as you want betas looking at the story, not stumbling over simple errors. Free betas can be hard to come by and you don't want to waste them.
ARC reading could be considered to be almost the same thing, though Advanced Reader Copies (ARC) are not for feedback, (the book is ready or imminently to be published) but to be used mainly on the marketing end of things, more a review than a beta read. An honest review might contain some negative points.
I provide a paid beta reading service which goes further than the average reader and aims to prepare the author for the next stage of their writing process, as well as providing extensive beta feedback, enabling further self-editing. I have added an example contents page to my website, but each report is subjective and addresses each manuscript individually, so the headings are subject to variation.
Developmental editing is a deeper process, after alpha/beta reading. As I mentioned most people who have written a novel and ask for betas are actually at the alpha stage, as perhaps very few, if anyone, has read their work and they think the novel is complete, but it may have large plot, point of view or structural problems that they could not see as they are too close. My work as a developmental editor is to find these issues and help the author, through close collaboration, to fix them and aid them to make their novel more engaging and satisfying.
Finally, line editing addresses the writing, after the manuscript is complete and everything is where it should be. I look at readability, style, cutting out over writing, addressing filter words, dialogue, punctuation, repetition, it is a very long list and it fixes most proofreading errors.
I hope my explanation makes sense, it is a lot to take in :)
My final tip, to novice authors, is ensure you plot well at the start and do some research. And read as many books in your chosen genre as you can, and look at them in a structural way. Learn how they craft their stories. There is a lot of help out there from established, experienced writers with tips and tricks to aid you to build the story, and I would advise you seek these out.
A good strong premise is the place to start, and following an act structure loosely (lots out there on act structure) might also help. The beats, the breadcrumbs of plot, the building of tension, and fully-fleshed antagonists with believable motivations are vitally important.
I have a free premise worksheet download on my website that might help to guide you. The link is below.
When you are ready, I will happily evaluate a sample beta read for you, and we can take it from there.
Keep writing and good luck.