E33 – What Is Line Editing?
In this episode, Miss Catherine M.H. and V.E. Griffith discuss the details of line editing, including what it is, how and when to get ready for a line edit, what to expect from your editor. how to best communicate with them, and what it will cost.
The Revision Wizards are at https://www.revisionwizards.com
V.E. Griffith’s website: https://www.vegriffith.com
Miss Catherine M.H.’s website: https://www.scribes-pen.com
Transcript at: https://revisionwizards.com/?p=2386
V.E. Griffith 00:00:00
Welcome to the Revision Wizards podcast. I’m Ve Griffith, and I’m joined by my wacky and wonderful cohost, Ms. Catherine MH.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:00:00
This is episode 33, and we’re continuing with our series on what kind of editors are there.
V.E. Griffith 00:00:15
Ms. Catherine is primarily a developmental editor, which we talked about in the last episode, while I’m primarily a line editor. So I’m excited to give you a different perspective and talk about how what I do differs from what a developmental editor does.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:00:15
And because I love to pants. First question what is line editing?
V.E. Griffith 00:00:36
Line editing is a look at your manuscript that’s much more detailed than a developmental edit. If you think of a developmental edit as the 10,000 foot view that looks at your story overall and makes sure that you hit all of your story points your conflict, your choice, your consequence, your continuing complications, those kinds of things. A line edit looks at your sentence by sentence, word choice, your sentence construction, your punctuation, those kinds of issues that are much more detailed and lower to the ground than a developmental edit.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:01:19
So the way I’ve always pictured when people have said line edits versus developmental editors, once I figured out that they were two different things, that developmental looks at your entire book. But a line editor has to focus on every single line. They go, One line, okay, check. And then they go, Next line, okay, check. And that’s how I’ve always pictured line editors. Would you say that that’s kind of correct?
V.E. Griffith 00:01:49
That’s kind of correct. Although a good line editor will also keep your story in mind, they’re not just looking at your sentence construction. They’re also looking at your overall story. And if you have a large story gap or story hole that would be obvious to any reader, then a good line editor is going to point it out to you. The flip side of that is, if I’m working in a genre that I’m not ordinarily proficient in and I’m line editing your work, I’m going to miss some of those tropes, or I’m going to miss some of those obligatory scenes that you might have missed because I’m not focusing on your overall story nearly as much. It becomes in large part a question of time. How much time do I have to edit your work? How much effort am I going to be putting into it? And that obviously has a direct bearing on the cost. So the more I do, the more it costs.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:02:47
What is it about line editing that you prefer to do? Why? Is that the kind that you’re like? Yes, this is what I like to do, because I mean, it’s hard. It’s not something I’m capable mostly I want to say because I’m dyslexic. So for me, line editing is like garlic to vampires.
V.E. Griffith 00:03:09
I find it appealing because I am a stickler for grammar and a stickler for punctuation and a stickler for consistency. I enjoy making sure that for example, all of the occurrences of the words prince or king in your manuscript are correctly capitalized. Ms. Catherine is laughing because she had trouble with that.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:03:35
Well, okay, look, I capitalized all of them. You said stay consistent. I went consistent.
V.E. Griffith 00:03:40
I can talk to you about the rules on that later anyway. But I like making sure that all of those little details are consistent. I take some pleasure in it. It’s weird, I know, but we all have our thing, and that’s kind of mine. I grew up in a home that was filled with writing and filled with words. And anytime I wrote something, my parents would sit down with me. I’m old enough that we had to print it out. And I would print out the writing, the essay that I did, or the newspaper story for the high school paper or whatever it was that I was working on, a short story for fiction for my writer’s group. And my parents would get out the literal red pen and correct missing commas, missing periods, incorrectly placed words, all those kinds of things. And that’s really how I learned to edit, was by being edited in that way. So doing that just comes naturally to me and it works very well for me and I enjoy doing it a lot.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:04:53
Okay, so when it comes to line edits, because again, usually when I hear line edits and probably most people, they’re thinking the very nitty gritty stuff now. So what do you see? Is usually the more common mistakes that people are making when it comes to line editing.
V.E. Griffith 00:05:11
There are three big ones. People have a lot of trouble with commas. Either they use too many or they don’t use enough, or they construct what is called a comma splice, which is where you take two complete sentences and you jam them together with a comma instead of with a period and a conjunction like and, or or, or but. And the other thing that people run into a lot of times is paragraphs that are too long, that need to be broken up. So I enjoy correcting those kinds of things a lot of times. Also, people will run into word choice issues where they will overuse a word and they won’t notice it. My own writing suffers from that sometimes, where I will use a word like amazing three times in a paragraph and I need to find another word. And part of my job is to flag those, maybe make a suggestion about what word might work better, look at how to rewrite a sentence, those kinds of things. Comma splices are usually pretty easy to fix, but they can be hard for people to recognize because in a lot of ways we talk in comma splices. And people have a tendency to write the way they talk. The problem with that is if you write the way you talk, it can be incomprehensible. Those are the big issues that I run into a lot.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:06:34
So what happens if a writer comes to you and they are very adamant about breaking the rules? That is going to be their style of voice. That is how they want to portray the sentences. An example could be using one word sentences or one word paragraphs. Because I know that drives some people insane.
V.E. Griffith 00:06:56
It drives me insane, it doesn’t drive me insane. It is a stylistic choice. Whenever you’re breaking a rule of grammar like that, you need to be able to articulate why you’re doing it, even if it’s just to yourself. You don’t have to explain it to the reader, but you may need to explain it to your editor so that your editor can help you execute your vision well. You also want to be able to articulate the rule that you’re breaking. A lot of times writers do things because they don’t know the rule that they’re breaking. So then when your editor goes back and corrects it, you get into a conflict with your editor about whether something is correct or not. So you want to be careful with those kinds of things. That’s why I recommend that writers put together what’s called a style guide to help their editor understand what they’re doing, what rules they’re breaking, how things should be formatted, how things should be spelled. If you’re using intentional misspellings.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:06:56
makes sense. And eventually, of course, we’ll get into what a style guide is a little later down the road on our podcast. Right?
V.E. Griffith 00:08:14
I think we have an episode on style guide scheduled. Yes.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:08:18
So for those who are interested so you are trying to line edit your own stuff before you hand it off to a line editor, what do you suggest they go through and try to do?
V.E. Griffith 00:08:29
First thing to check for is comma splices because those are easy to fix if you have pieces of sentences that are joined together by commas. If you can replace the comma with a period and they come out as two complete sentences, that’s a comma splice. So you can fix that by recasting the sentence such that there are two clauses instead of two sentences. That works fine. You can break them into two complete sentences and maybe use a conjunction like and or but between them that works fine. Sometimes, depending on how closely related the sentences are, you could even get away with oh my God, am I actually saying this a semicolon? So it just depends on how you want to write the sentence. So that’s the first thing that I would check for is to look for comma splices. Usually an AI tool like Pro Writing Aid or Grammarly or Autocrit is not going to catch those because grammatically they’re weird, but correct enough that they’ll fly right past the AI. It’s like the same situation would occur if you were using an incorrect homophone, like threw and through. You can spell that different ways and which one is correct depends on the context. If you spell the wrong word correctly, that’ll fly right past a spell check. The second one that I tend to look for is passive voice, and I’ve talked about this on the podcast before. We know how much I hate passive voice. This was something that was beaten into me by a writing teacher when I was 13. If you can eliminate the words was, were, and had and their descendants from your writing, you will automatically force yourself to write in more active voice. Now, that’s not to say that you should never use those words. I don’t say that, okay? There are times when was, were, and had are the correct words to choose, and I have even been known to add them into manuscripts occasionally. But if you can minimize their use, that will help. The third thing that I suggest people look at is pay attention to incorrect homophones when you can spot them. If you have trouble with them, you may wind up going through your manuscript very meticulously to look for them and look at a dictionary to see what’s correct. Those kinds of errors have a tendency to pull your reader out of the story and flag your grammar to them. And that’s not what you want. You want them immersed in the story. So your grammar and your word choice need to be correct. That’s really the reason that I am meticulous and I am militant about those kinds of errors. It’s not that it’s evil or bad. It’s that those kinds of errors pull me out of the story, and so I want to minimize them because it lowers what’s sometimes called the reader burden. I don’t have to think about, oh, wait, she used the wrong word there, because it’s already correct.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:11:43
So I’ve been writing. I’ve been editing. At what point do I find myself a line editor?
V.E. Griffith 00:11:50
If you’re going to hire a developmental editor, a line editor comes after that. Typically, a line editor is a step that’s after developmental edits and after you have basically made your manuscript as good as you yourself can make it, you want to already have run it through the AI tools like grammarly and pro, writing aid and Autocrit. You want to have gone through it yourself with a fine tooth comb as much as you can. The problem, of course, is going to be that you’re too close to the manuscript and you’re going to miss stuff. That’s why you’re hiring a line editor in the first place. But the better you can make your manuscript, the more time your editor is going to have to spend on your manuscript and the better it’s going to become. You simply want to be careful to not give them a garbage draft. Because if I’m having to spend lots of time correcting commas and missing periods because you write run on sentences that you could have caught and didn’t, then I’m not spending time helping you with other aspects of your story that might need help. So basically, when you get it to as good as you can get it, that’s when you want to hire a line editor.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:13:11
All right, so now we’re talking about hiring them. What should I be trying to save for when I go to hire my editor? What do they cost?
V.E. Griffith 00:13:19
Depends on the editor, of course.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:13:21
Yes. Feel like that’s our answer every time. How much does it cost? Depends.
V.E. Griffith 00:13:30
That is our answer. Some editors charge by the hour, some charge by the page, some charge by the word. If you’re looking to hire me as your editor just because I’m the easy example, I charge by the word. What that means is it doesn’t matter how many pages your manuscript is or how long it takes me, you’re going to pay the same price. If you’re hiring an editor who’s charging by the hour, your incentive is to make it as clean as possible so they can go as quick as possible. If you’re looking at an editor who’s charging you by the page, one of the things that you’re going to want to make sure that you know ahead of time is how they want your manuscript formatted in Microsoft Word. Typically they’re going to say they want it double spaced, they want one inch margins, and they want it twelve point Times New Roman, that’s going to give you about 250 words a page, give or take, depending on how much dialogue you have. Dialogue tends to be shorter, but if you’re charging by the page, that’s what you’re looking at. I prefer by the word because it’s easy. You can just go down to the bottom of Microsoft Word, see what the word count is, times whatever the rate is. There’s your so it’s in any event, with any of them, they should be clear and upfront about what their pricing is at the time of recording. I’m charging about two and a half cents a word, depending on the manuscript and depending on exactly the services that you’re asking for. So that’s going to run for a 60,000 word manuscript that’s going to run about $1,500. If you’re looking at 100,000 word manuscript, that’s looking $2500. It’s pretty expensive. It’s a premium service. But I feel like if you are asking people to pay you to read your work, they’re going to want as good a product as you can give them. I certainly expect that. I don’t necessarily expect error free, but I expect errors rare when I’m paying somebody to read what they’ve written.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:15:34
Okay, so I’m sure you’ve heard this before, so I’ll say it because I know we’re also going to cover this on another episode, but why should I get a line editor? I could just get like a proofreader.
V.E. Griffith 00:15:48
A proofreader is the last ditch effort to catch errors. They’re going to be reading quickly. They’re going to be seeing things like commas and missing periods. But they’re not going to be looking at your larger story. They’re not going to be looking nearly as much at things like word choice and sentence clarity. They’re just going to make sure you’ve got stuff spelled right so they’re really different functions.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:16:15
Makes sense. Yeah. I like to always say that your line editor is fixing things. Your proofreader is reading the things. Because I think it’s very different when you’re reading to just read through versus when you’re looking for stuff that’s wrong. Proofreading, I’ve always thought, is literally what pops out as you’re reading it.
V.E. Griffith 00:16:38
Typically the way I have seen authors go through the process is they’ll do a developmental edit first. They will take the results of the developmental edit and they will do their own edits. They will go through and do their own as close to line edit as they can. They’ll hand off to a line editor. Then once it’s line edited and they’ve accepted those changes or rewritten what needs rewriting, they will go to beta readers and after that they will go to a proofreader. And yes, that is McCavity, my cat.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:17:13
Okay, so I know that this is an issue with me. How often do you see it with other people that maybe you can help correct them beforehand? You’re writing, your sentence is finished, you put a period, and then you go space, space, next sentence. Is that acceptable to do?
V.E. Griffith 00:17:40
My answer is no, and there is a specific reason for that. Okay. When I learned typing in high school, I learned to do exactly that two spaces after the end of a sentence. Many, many writers do this. The problem is when you get to the layout and design phase, having two spaces at the end of a sentence affects your layout. And it looks weird to have that much space between sentences. If you are the sort of person who types in that manner, by all means do what gets the words out. Okay? I’m not going to tell you never to type that way. I am going to tell you to go into search and replace search for space space and replace it with space and see how many times you’ve done that. Fix them before you send it to your line editor. Because if I’m your line editor, it’s going to drive me crazy and I’m going to do it for you. But the reason is downstream of the line edit. It’s not only that it’s incorrect, it’s that there is a technical reason to fix it later.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:18:51
Okay, well, then that brings me to the idea that, well, it’s just a space, so why does it matter? I’ve written a paragraph, I’ve hit period and then I’ve gone space and hit enter again. And I’ve started the next period like the whole next paragraph. Is that the same thing? It’s just a matter of the formatting later on?
V.E. Griffith 00:19:10
Yes, it’s a matter of the formatting later on. And it can produce things like widows. A widow is where you have a word wrapped at the end of a paragraph, and there’s just one word there that’s a widow. So it can produce widows. It can produce other artifacts of layout and design that you don’t necessarily want. The fewer characters you have, the tighter your manuscript will be and the easier it will be for you or your layout artist to deal with it. Once you get it into InDesign, if you’re going for print or into Vellum or into any other tool, Atticus, any other tool like that, the fewer extraneous characters you have, the better off you’re going to be. The other thing that I would pay attention to is an artifact that shows up in Microsoft Word, particularly Ms. Catherine, with your documents. And I don’t know where they’re coming from. It’s called the non-breaking space. If you go into Microsoft Word and you turn on in the settings something called non printing characters, you can see spaces. They show up as little dots, but non-breaking spaces show up as little circles. The problem with non-breaking spaces is that, again, at the layout and design phase, they can cause very, very weird issues because the software will not word wrap at that space. It will word wrap if you have like, five words that are all separated by non breaking spaces. It will treat them as a single word, and you’ll wind up with a very short line followed by these five words. It’s going to look funny. You don’t want to do that. So you want to pay attention to non breaking spaces if you’re doing copy and pasting and they’re creeping in from one of the AI tools like Autocrit.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:21:05
So, see, these are things that line editors catch for you that normal writers just don’t even think about, such as myself, who always double spaces in between and then double spaces and then hits enter.
V.E. Griffith 00:21:17
Yeah. Again, this is stuff that’s easy to fix, and it’s something that you should do before you hand off to your line editor. But you don’t need to worry about when you’re first drafting. When you’re first drafting, just get the words on the page. We can fix the formatting later, but you want to fix the formatting later before your editor does, because otherwise your editor is going to spend time doing it. And you don’t want them doing that. You want them paying attention to your story, not to non-breaking spaces.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:21:49
All right, any last tips, thoughts, whatever? I mean, you’re the line editor out of the two of us.
V.E. Griffith 00:21:57
Before you hire a line editor, have a 15 minutes conversation with them. Get on zoom. You can do it by telephone, but I recommend at least doing it by zoom. If you can’t do it in person, make sure that they are comfortable with your approach to fiction, that you are comfortable with their approach to editing, that the two of you are on the same page, exactly the same page about what service you want. Because if you’re not, you’re going to wind up spending a lot of money for a product that isn’t exactly what you want. Communication is key. You want to make sure that you know all the details, in addition to how much is it going to cost. You want to know things like how fast is it going to turn around? Are you going to give me the results of the edit in pieces, like by chapter as you get done, or are you going to hold it until you’re done with the entire manuscript? Most folks are going to hold it till they’re done with the entire manuscript. It’s just easier that way. You want to know how much communication you’re going to get from your editor during the process. I am the sort of person who is going to tell you, I’m going to work on your manuscript on these days because I have a day job and I don’t edit when I’m working the day job. But I’m going to do your manuscript this day. This day. This day. If you send me an email with a question, you’re going to wait until I have time to answer you on one of my work days. But beyond that, you’re probably not going to hear from me until the manuscript is finished. The last thing that you want to pay attention to is what is the work product that you’re going to get? Are you going to get an editorial letter that’s got overall findings from your editor? Are you going to have something like a 60 Minutes zoom call to discuss your manuscript and the changes that got made? Some people want that stuff, some people don’t. It all depends on what you’re comfortable with, what the editor is comfortable with. But you want to know going in what those expectations are so that, again, you and your editor are on the same page. The other thing that I would suggest to people is looking toward a standard style guide. If there is a question about how to format something. For example, my favorite bugaboo is numbers. How to format a number like 9382. Do you spell it out? Do you use digits? In which situations do you use the digits? In which situations do you spell it out? Something like the Associated Press Style Book or the Chicago Manual of Style has information in them about which one to use. So if your editor uses a style guide, you want to make sure that you know what style guide they’re using so that everything is consistent, everything is on the level. I personally prefer Chicago Manual of Style. It works well for fiction. The AP style book is really designed for journalism, so I think that it doesn’t work as well for fiction. But if you want to use it, it’s not incorrect to do so. You should just be upfront with your editor that this is what you’re doing.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:25:21
And then also, as somebody who has gone in for a line edit, make sure that you communicate what you’re looking for or even your weaknesses. Take me for an example. I am dyslexic So when I handed it off to VE, I was like, spelling is demonic. There will be times where Word will tell me seven different words that all look the same for the word that’s there. And I’m guessing at this point. So if you’re like me, who maybe is Dyslexic has really hard time with that, tell your editor, let them know ahead of time that this is something that I know I’m bad at. Even though I’ve tried to look through them and figure them all out, I’m probably still going to miss them. Please point them out. Point out the correct spelling because eventually I’ll try to remember how it’s actually spelled. So make sure that you’re telling them your weaknesses because they’re not going to look at you and laugh in your face. They shouldn’t, but they are here to help strengthen your weaknesses so that your strengths shine.
V.E. Griffith 00:26:32
The other thing that I would point out to your editor, usually in a separate Word document called a style guide, and we’ll talk more on another episode about style guides, is anything that’s weird about your manuscript, especially when it comes to spelling character names or words that might be in a made up language. If you have a character named Rachel, how do you spell her name? Is it R-A-C-H-A-E-L? Is it R-A-C-H-E-L? Is it some other weird spelling? R-A-C-H-E-L-E. Those kinds of errors will get flagged by a spell check, but your editor needs to know, oh, this is one I need to override. How are they going to know that? And especially if you misspell the word because a spell check went wild. That’s how your editor is going to catch it, by you doing a style guide.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:27:31
I didn’t think of that when I handed my book to you. I don’t know if your computer flagged Eleanore’s name because I spell it the British way instead of the American way.
V.E. Griffith 00:27:39
Actually, it did flag it and you did it consistently, so I just went with it.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:27:45
Yeah, it’s supposed to have an E at the end, but my computer doesn’t flag Word. I think it just stopped flagging it on my end because Word will do that for anybody who A is Dyslexic. Like me, word will start to learn your spelling mistakes. So if you consistently spell something wrong, it will stop checking for that because it assumes that is how you want it to be spelled. So sometimes it is helpful when you are going through and trying to catch those things before handing it to an editor to put it in a different document, to maybe go into Google Docs, to go into Scrivener, put it in something else where it’ll suddenly pop up as hey, did you mean it to be spelt like that? Because word does learn. For example, “their,” as in their object. I don’t know if you’ve caught any of those in there, but word has learned that I spell that word wrong. And I still, to this day, don’t know if it’s I before E or E before I.
V.E. Griffith 00:28:54
That’s another situation where you might want to put your document into an AI tool like pro writing aid or autocrit or grammarly. I personally use the paid versions of those. But simple spell check is available on the free version of all of those tools, I believe. So something like that can be very helpful. Especially if you have problems with words like they’re, their and there, because words just.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:29:29
Going to stop ignoring it. It’s going to just ignore it. Especially once you reach a certain word. Count It’s. Great.
V.E. Griffith 00:29:36
All right. Any other questions?
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:29:39
I think that’s about it.
V.E. Griffith 00:29:41
Okay, well, that’s what we got this week. Online editing. And so we will see you guys in two weeks.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:29:49
Thank you so much for joining us for today’s episode. You can find every episode on your favorite podcast player and on YouTube. For transcripts please visit our website at revisionwizards.com they go live the same day as our episodes.
V.E. Griffith 00:30:05
If you’d like to reach out to us separately, you can find me at vegriffith.com and Miss Catherine at scribes-pen.com.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:30:14
V.E. Griffith 00:30:14