Digging in Deep: What is Content Editing?
Editing. That tricky little step between drafting and publishing. Okay, maybe it’s not so little. Actually, it’s kind of important. I’ll even go out on a limb and say it’s actually the most important part. And the limb is very short.
But where do you start? You’ve got all these words and now you have to take your messy first draft and make them actually readable. You know editing’s a thing, but you’ve probably heard there is more than one kind of editing.
One of the most comprehensive is known as content or development editing. This is often the first kind of editing any book sees and, for new writers, can be a valuable step in honing their craft.
For more about the different types of editing, have a click here.
So let’s talk a bit more about content editing.
What is content editing?
Content editing is the process of refining and improving the content of your book by analyzing its structure, clarity, coherence, and consistency, as well as identifying and addressing any problems with tone, style, voice, pacing, and its overall organization.
Content editing also aims to ensure your book is engaging and relevant to your target audience. The editor might suggest changes to the wording, sentence structure, or paragraph structure, but the primary aim of content editing is to offer feedback on larger issues such as the overall structure of the piece.
In contrast to copy editing, which focuses on correcting errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation, content editing is concerned with the big-picture elements like plot holes and character arcs.
Whew, that’s a lot. Don’t worry—we’re going to break this down.
Benefits of content editing for fiction writers
So why do you need a content edit? Even if you don’t hire an editor for this step, you’re still going to go through a content editing no matter how you publish your book. It’s the step you’ll most likely go through after your first draft is done. And you might need to do it more than once.
Content editing can:
- Improve the overall quality of the story: Improve your plot, pacing, characters, and dialogue to create a more compelling and cohesive narrative.
- Identify plot holes and inconsistencies: Find plot holes, inconsistencies, and other issues that might detract from the reading experience.
- Enhance character development: Develop more complex and dynamic characters by deepening and clarifying their motivations, actions, and relationships.
- Improve pacing and flow: Create a more balanced and engaging narrative flow with changes to the pacing, structure, and organization of the story.
- Strengthen the themes and messages: Ensure that your story's themes and messages are conveyed clearly and effectively, without being too heavy-handed or preachy.
What to Look for When Content Editing
Whether you hire a content editor or not, you’ll want to do your own self-edit for content. Here are some things you can look for:
Point of View
- Consistency: Ensure the point of view is consistent throughout. If the story is told from a specific character's perspective, make sure that it stays in that perspective throughout the entire book unless you’re clear about when there is a switch.
- Head-hopping: Watch out for head-hopping, which is when the point of view jumps from one character to another within a scene or paragraph. This can be confusing for readers.
- Characterization: Check that the point of view accurately reflects the character's thoughts, feelings, and motivations. The way a character perceives and describes their surroundings should be consistent with their personality and background.
- Show, don't tell: Try as much as possible to ensure the point of view shows the story's events and characters through the character's perspective, rather than simply telling the reader what's happening.
- Dialogue attribution: Ensure that the dialogue is attributed correctly, so readers can tell who is speaking. Avoid using too many dialogue tags that draw attention away from the characters' words and emotions.
- Use of jargon and technical language: Check that jargon and technical language are explained or defined clearly, so readers who are unfamiliar with the subject matter can understand it. This is especially important in SFF where you might be making up a lot of concepts and words.
- Clarity of ideas: Ensure ideas and arguments are clear and well-organized and that the character’s POV is easy and logical to follow.
- Character consistency: Ensure your characters' actions, thoughts, and dialogue are consistent throughout the text. Check that their personalities, mannerisms, and motivations are consistent and make sense.
- Plot consistency: Ensure that the plot is consistent and logical by looking for plot holes, inconsistencies, or contradictions.
- Timeline consistency: Ensure your timeline of events is consistent and makes sense. Check for any discrepancies in the sequence of events or time lapses.
- Setting consistency: Ensure your various settings are consistent by looking for discrepancies in their descriptions and any inconsistencies in the portrayal of the environment.
- Tone consistency: Check that your voice and style are consistent throughout the text.
- Use of terminology and jargon: Ensure you’re using jargon or specific terminology the same way throughout the book.
Essential skills of a content editor
Once you’ve gone over your writing yourself, you might want to seek out the help of a professional. This step can be especially important when you’re first starting out so you can benefit from seeing their advice and seeing where your weak spots are. Here are some things you want in a strong editor:
- Strong writing skills: Excellent writing skills, with a deep understanding of grammar, syntax, and style. They should be able to identify and correct errors in the text while also improving the overall quality of the writing.
- Knowledge of the industry: Knowledge of the publishing industry and your genre. They should be familiar with the conventions, tropes, tone, and other important details related to your genre and advise you on where to add these things.
- Attention to detail: A keen eye for detail. They should be meticulous in their work and committed to producing high-quality content.
- Communication skills: Excellent communication skills and are able to convey their ideas and feedback clearly and effectively. They should be able to explain their suggestions and feedback in a way that is helpful and constructive. They should also highlight the positive aspects of your writing, not just the negative.
- Flexibility: Able to adapt to the needs of the project and be willing to work collaboratively with the writer. They should be open to feedback and able to adjust their approach as needed.
- Time management skills: Able to manage their time effectively, work efficiently, and meet deadlines. They should be able to prioritize tasks and ensure that the project stays on track.
- Empathy: Should be able to empathize with you, the writer, understanding your perspective and working to support your vision for the book. They should be able to provide feedback in a way that is respectful and sensitive to your feelings.
How to find a content editor
Once you’ve decided to hire an editor, you might be wondering where to find one. Here are a few suggestions:
- Freelance platforms: There are several freelance platforms, such as Reedsy, Upwork, Freelancer, and Fiverr, where you can find content editors for hire. These platforms allow you to search for and hire freelancers based on their skills, experience, and reviews from previous clients.
- Professional associations: Professional associations, such as the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) or the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), can provide you with a list of qualified content editors who specialize in different areas of writing and editing.
- Referrals: Ask for referrals from other writers who have worked with content editors before. They may be able to recommend someone they had a positive experience with.
- Social media: Social media platforms, such as Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook, can also be useful for finding content editors. Many content editors have a presence on social media and use it to promote their services and connect with potential clients.
- Job boards: Some job boards, such as Indeed or LinkedIn Jobs, may also have listings for content editors for hire.
Research potential candidates
Before hiring anyone to content edit your work, there are a few things you should do to ensure you’re getting the best possible editor for the job.
- Check their website or portfolio: Many content editors have their own website or portfolio where they showcase their skills, experience, and services. Look for examples of their previous work, client testimonials, and their genres of expertise.
- Read their reviews: If the content editor is listed on a freelance platform, check their reviews from previous clients. Look for patterns in the feedback, such as their strengths and weaknesses, communication style, and reliability.
- Check their qualifications: Look for evidence of their qualifications, such as their education, training, or certification. For example, the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) offers certification programs for editors in different areas of expertise.
- Look for industry experience: Look for a content editor who has experience working in your genre. This can help ensure that they understand the conventions and tropes of your genre and can provide valuable insights and feedback.
- Ask for references: Ask the content editor for references from previous clients. Contact these references and ask about their experience working with the editor, their strengths and weaknesses, and their communication style.
- Ask for a sample edit: Any good editor will offer a free sample edit of about three to ten pages of your work so you can get an idea of how they work.
- Conduct an interview: Consider conducting an interview with the content editor to get a sense of their personality, communication style, and approach to editing.
How Much Does Content Editing Cost?
Hiring an editor is usually a pretty significant investment, but the cost can be worth it in the long run. This is especially true for content editors, who are at the more expensive (and intensive) end of the editing spectrum.
The costs for a content edit vary widely depending on the experience of the editor and the condition of your manuscript, but here are some broad guidelines to consider:
- Hourly rates: Many content editors charge by the hour, with rates typically ranging from $50 to $150 per hour. The final cost will depend on the total number of hours required to edit the manuscript.
- Flat fees: Some content editors charge a flat fee based on the total word count or page count of the manuscript. These fees can range from $0.01 to $0.10 per word, or $5 to $10 per page.
- Project-based rates: Some content editors offer project-based rates, which take into account the scope and complexity of the project. For example, a novel may cost more to edit than a short story, or a technical manual may cost more than a memoir.
- Rush fees: If you need your manuscript edited quickly, some content editors may charge a rush fee. This fee can range from 10% to 50% of the total cost, depending on the editor and the timeline.
When hiring an editor, don’t forget to do thorough research on them. Any one can call themselves an editor, and there are extremely varying qualities of freelance editors out there. Some of whom will gladly take your money and do a terrible job. References and sample edits are key.
By now, you should have a clearer idea of how content editing can benefit your book. No matter what, your book will need a content edit. It just depends on whether you’d like to do that yourself or get the added benefit of a professional's expertise.
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