Different types of editing – do the labels matter?

pigeonholes

Sometimes what we do fits neatly into a category of editing … and sometimes it’s less clear.

Recently I’ve seen (and participated in) a few discussions about different types of editing – what they involve, how rates of pay work out for each, and the level of skill or knowledge required to undertake them.

In terms of ‘editing’ (from the perspective of many members of the SfEP), there are several commonly understood types or levels of editing:

  • structural or development editing
  • copy-editing
  • proofreading

The SfEP provides useful descriptions of what is meant by ‘copy-editing’ and ‘proofreading’ – tasks that occupy many of its members for much of their working time.

Then there is also a hybrid we sometimes talk about: proof-editing. This often seems to refer to a job described and commissioned by the client as a proofread, but that actually involves a greater degree of intervention than we might strictly expect of a proofread. There can be various reasons for this, not least of which is the possibility that only one editorial professional has ever laid eyes on the material about to be published – you.

Dialogue with clients

In terms of talking to each other, and to publisher clients, these labels (especially the first three) can be highly relevant and useful – they provide a kind of shorthand to help us understand the parameters of a particular job. Proofreading involves making essential corrections only; copy-editing involves a higher level of stylistic decisions but is still constrained by the client’s requirements and the need to respect the author’s voice, and so on. By using such labels, we have a good idea of what the client wants, and the client in turn knows what they are paying for, and what they should expect to get back from us.

However, being too fixated on these labels can cause problems when we work with people who are not familiar with the traditional book publishing process, which might include a huge range of clients: from self-publishing authors, to students wanting their theses proofread, to business clients, to government departments and various international organisations.

Labels as barriers

How do you deal with editorial work that resists categorisation? Should you try to make it conform by rigidly carrying out the tasks that you would associate with the level of work ostensibly being asked for? Should you reject it on the grounds that you have only been trained to proofread, but it actually looks more like a copy-edit? Or should you adapt to fit the needs of the client? It’s possible that by clinging on to very rigid notions of the prescribed nature of proofreading, or copy-editing, we will fail to provide the service that a client actually requires … and both sides can lose out.

A business client might, for instance, ask you to ‘proofread’ a document. However, it may not mean much to this client if you return the ‘proofread’ document marked up with perfectly executed BS 5261C: 2005, having made only very minimal interventions. It’s highly likely they were actually expecting you to perform major editorial surgery, and provide them with changes clearly set out in such a way that a layperson (not another editor or a typesetter) could understand.

This is where communication with the client is paramount; this applies whatever kind of client you are working for, but is especially important when it comes to assessing the type of work that is required for a ‘non-publishing’ client – you need to understand what they want you to do, and how far they want you to go … and they need to understand the service that you will be providing. As Kate Haigh said when she discussed working for business clients on this blog: ‘business clients want to know that you understand their needs and their material’.

Labels versus rates

The SfEP also suggests on its website minimum rates for the different types of editing, with proofreading seen as commanding a lower hourly rate than copy-editing, and development editing tending to be paid at a higher rate than copy-editing. Project management (which may or may not involve hands-on editing) is expected to command the highest rates. How these rates actually work out in practice is often the subject of hot debate. And many editors will choose to take the line that their time is their time, and should be paid for accordingly, no matter what specific editorial task is being performed.

In short, labels for the types of work we do can be helpful when we talk to other editorial professionals, when we communicate with publisher clients (although all publishers are different, and the exact requirements of a ‘proofread’, say, can vary), and when we assess for ourselves the level of work a job requires. Where the labels can be less helpful, or perhaps where we need to be prepared to be flexible, is when it comes to selling our services to a diverse range of clients, and when it comes to adapting our working methods to fit a client’s requirements – such important parts of winning business, and securing repeat commissions.

Photo on 28-05-2015 at 13.51 #2Posted by Liz Jones, SfEP marketing and PR director.

Proofread by SfEP Entry-Level Member Christine Layzell.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.

5 thoughts on “Different types of editing – do the labels matter?

  1. Sophie Playle

    Excellent article, Liz!

    In the world of fiction editing, there’s some overlap between the terms development editing / substantive editing / manuscript critique / manuscript appraisal. The former two I believe generally includes specific notes on the pages of the manuscript, whereas the latter two are usually presented as a separate editorial report (that may or may not go into detail, but would certainly address global issues in a general way).

    I’ve started issuing my writer-clients with a questionnaire at the start of the process, of which one of the questions is ‘What do you expect to achieve by working with an editor?’ This is a great way to ensure my service meets the client’s needs, as we can’t always assume the client knows exactly what a service entails, especially when editors work in slightly different ways, even if we’re using the same categories.

    Reply
  2. Pam Moser

    The content of your article is very helpful and informative, but I respectfully suggest that you find another proofreader. In reading it, I noted the following error: “we have a good idea of what the client wants, and the client in turn knows what they are paying for, and what they should expect to get back from us.” This is a disagreement in the singular form of “client” and the plural pronoun “they”. I also noted your spelling of “organizations” and similarly “categorizations” are both incorrect, using ‘s’ instead of the correct ‘z’.

    Reply
    1. Liz Jones Post author

      As the author of the article and the editor of the blog, I wanted to say that I am very happy with the work of the proofreader here. The ‘s’ spelling is perfectly acceptable for ‘organisation’ and ‘categorisation’ in the UK, which is where we are based, and it’s our preferred style. I am also happy with the singular use of ‘they’ in this context.

      Reply
  3. Pingback: A cog in the machine | EAT SLEEP EDIT REPEAT

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *