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Copy Editor vs. Developmental Editor
What kind of Editor do you need?
Just about any good copywriter can edit someone else's copy.
That doesn't make them an Editor. A good editor serves many functions, and begins
by establishing with the publisher exactly what those functions are.
The Copy Editor
Some editorial situations call for a Copy Editor. He or she revises or even rewrites the
copy to make it succinct, correct, organized and well-stated. But, if your blog has multiple guest contributors, should we retain each writer's
tone and style, while still doing everything else an editor should? Or should I massage their writing to achieve a consistent
tone in keeping with your own? Or even put the text into the publisher's voice altogether?
If a contribution is short on substance, should I fill it out with additional on-topic copy points?
Or ask the author to do that?
There are yet more issues: If the contribution turns out to be a duplicate of what they've already posted on
their own blog, does it need a complete re-writing? Will the piece interest your users, readers or customers ... or does it merely
serve the author? And who will explain these policies to the writer(s)?
In one of my early experiences as a Copy Editor of other people's work, I didn't realize all these factors. I simply corrected
spelling and grammar, tidied up or improved the rhetoric, and if the piece seemed thin, I sometimes added
a bit of content from my own experience. Which is all fine, if the author is expecting that. Some welcomed
the improvements. But some didn't; you can imagine their reaction. Ouch. So I discussed this with
my client, and we explained the ground rules to future guest authors. No problem after that.
The Developmental Editor
Then, there is another type of editing – the Developmental Editor. As the title suggests,
this person works with the author to develop the article. The editor considers a manuscript from every angle. He or she might return it to the
author with recommendations for improving it and/or areas of exploration. Similar to an Assignment Editor,
the Developmental Editor might choose the topic, recommend sources, and so on — like an Editor at a publishing house.
A Developmental Editor may also create an Editorial Calendar (a schedule of articles),
select authors and/or manage the department, as a magazine editor does.
And then there's the hybrid situation, when a Copy Editor tactfully suggests changes and/or additions
to the author, who can take the advice or leave it.
Other types of Editor
Wait, wait, there are more:
Substantive Editor: Someone who deals with the
actual text (rather than just the Developmental big picture), but at a more general level than Copy Editor.
Some definitions say that Substantive editing comes into play only after the manuscript is completed (but not
ready to be published). Anyway, it includes organization, presentation, missing content, and other
considerations besides the actual text. Think of it as asking, "Is the substance of the premise (and theme) all there,
and does it make sense? Would another expert in the subject find something missing or incorrect? Would a
non-expert become confused?"
Line Editor: As it sounds, this editor goes line by line,
seeking to improve the prose through syntax, word choices, and other elements of the writing art.
Mechanical Editor: Text and art used to be
pasted up as a "mechanical" for platemaking, but this is different — this involves adherence to the
designated style manual and other rules ... viewing the work "mechanically," not as art.
But such distinctions are these days often confused or conflated, because of staffing budget, the
nature of organization and publication, ignorance, and other influences. The Mechanical, Line, or Copy
editor is sometimes confused
or may even have that responsibility. It's yet another reason for the
editor(s), publisher, and writer to agree beforehand as to who does what.
By now, I've had experience with all these situations, and am ready to jump in. If you already know the answers to
these questions, great. Or, if you need to work out your policies, I can help with that, too.
I've done this for the newsletters and
blogs of an audio studio, a volunteer ski club (including cajoling its members to contribute), a small
bank, video producers, and others.
For more information about developmental and copy editing,
please call 718-577-0005 during NYC business hours,
or write me. Let's discuss
how you might benefit by hiring a writer whose perspective is broader than some.