What Is Line Editing?

Do you need a developmental editor, line editor, copy editor, or substantive editor?As mentioned in yesterday’s post, no matter how you publish your book, you may need an editor. But do you need a developmental, substantive, copy, or line editor? Today, Claire Petrie, who works with me at CopyWright Communications, continues the discussion and defines the role of a line editor. NA

When authors engage the skills of a line editor, they want more than what a copy editor provides. (Strictly speaking, a copy editor is responsible for proper spelling, punctuation, grammar, and formatting.) A line editor makes sure not only that all these elements are employed, but she also brings order and flow to the writer’s language, providing smooth and articulate phrasing in the text. A line editor looks for consistency of voice within a paragraph as well as in a given line. Your sentences and paragraphs must “hang together,” articulating clear thinking, consistency in language, meaning, and style, and, in the case of fiction, the features and personalities of the characters, their thinking and their use of language must be maintained consistently throughout.

A line editor must also have an ingrained sense of when a statement of fact looks “fishy.” She consults the necessary reference sources to confirm or dispute those stated facts. If an author gives an incorrect attribution to, say, a painting or book within the text—or any other misconception and identification of a work, a date of an event, and so on—it is the line editor who fixes these infelicities (although much of this is the province of the copy editor, who should be employed first). There are not a few examples in which a quotation or an assertion of fact was incorrect and, without the perceptions of a proper line editor, proved an embarrassment to the publisher—and to the author, ultimately. When such oversights are spotted by the average reader and, heaven forbid, become widely known, they make observant readers skeptical and may bring overall denigration to the reputation of a publisher and its standards. A simple typo or word misspelled and forming another legitimate, but totally inappropriate, term with no bearing on the author’s meaning, could force a publisher to recall thousands of copies of a book at incredible expense both in cost and credibility. I have found errors in the use of a foreign language that, if they had gone undetected, might have displayed a publisher with spinach between its teeth.

All in all, the line editor can make or break a book, influencing its appearance, readability, and reliability. But a line editor cannot be expected to give an overall evaluation of a manuscript, an overhaul of the content, make excisions when extraneous material is found, or do necessary reorganization of the book: these are the provinces of the substantive editor.

About the Author

Claire Petrie began proofreading and copyediting 14 years ago. Her first work was copyediting mass-market paperback romances, thrillers, fantasies, horror stories, and mysteries. This experience enabled her to move on to copyediting, proofreading, and line editing for many of the major trade-book houses. Today, she also does books for authors publishing for the first time or those authors who seek revisions and refinements of their writing, whether published or about to be.

Some of the better-known titles Claire has worked on include The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, and Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri. Her work covers many fields: biography and memoirs; social history and the history of wars; art and architectural history; and all genres of fiction, with an accent on literary fiction. She possesses a master’s degree in library science and in art history and a working knowledge of French, Italian, and German. Connect with her directly on LinkedIn or via the Editorial Freelancers Association Directory.

Photo Courtesy: Free Digital Photo.net

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