When considering which level of editing you need for your project, it is essential that you be fully aware of the basic differences between levels. When you shop for an editor. whether your work is a fiction or non-fiction manuscript, simple letter or resume, collection of poetry, an essay, an article, or a master’s thesis, at different stages of its evolution it may need something different. Your basic options are substantive editing, copy editing, proofreading, rewriting, or ghost writing.
In substantive editing, a manuscript is evaluated for its core substance, its story and its style. Organizational changes and large revisions may be made or suggested. All the while, every effort is made to retain the author’s intent and voice. Sentences, paragraphs and chapters may be re-organized, or such re-organizations advised in order to attain smoother flowing text and clarity of meaning. Wording may be strengthened or clarified as the editor moves into the realm of copy editing.
In fact, substantive editing may include all of what is done in copy editing, plus structural changes as necessary, improvements in consistency of information, ideas, and writing style. Minor formatting changes or recommendations may also be made, but the focus is more on the story, the big picture, rather than the details.
Copy editing, or line editing, is a more technical level of editing than substantive editing. Little attention is paid to structure, flow of the text etc. In copy editing, grammar, spelling, capitalization, punctuation, hyphenation and overall correctness and consistency are the focus. Copy editing is a demanding and time-consuming task for which there are no shortcuts, particularly if you are interested in authoring a book of which you can be really proud. Copy editors look at the trees, or even the leaves, more than the forest.
Proofreading is not a one-time step in the process... and it is not editing! The difference is often misunderstood. Whenever any revisions are made to a manuscript it should be proofread once more to catch typos and minor editorial oversights that may inadvertently come with the revisions.
The more eyes that inspect a document the better so an author should double check (proofread) an editor’s work for accuracy at every stage, then, when it’s finally ready for the publication (blueline stage), have it proofread again... by a fresh set of professional eyes. This proofreading is the last step in the process before actual publication. Its focus is more on typo-type errors etc. because anything more substantive should have long since been found and corrected.
Perhaps you’ve never written a book but you’ve had a unique life experience that you are certain would make a good story, so you want someone else to write it for you because of your inexperience as a writer. That person is a “ghost” writer. He or she gets paid but his or her name never appears on the finished product.
Perhaps you have taken a stab at doing the writing yourself; you’ve got the essentials down but it needs so much more work that you are willing to let a professional writer or an editor take it over and virtually re-write it. This is editing beyond the substantive level and the person doing it gets an appropriate credit in the published work along with the author.
Ghost writing and rewriting are often the choice of very articulate and educated people who simply don’t feel comfortable as “writers”, don’t want to be directly identified as the author, or simply don’t have the time. Sometimes English is not their first or best language.
By the way, you can hire a ghost writer for anything from a book manuscript to a love letter or resume.