That, said the speaker at an end-of-year meeting of the Maryland EFA chapter, was a question she’s heard for years now.

The speaker was Ally Machate, who’s been a great EFA-er for quite a while. She went from being an editorial intern (essentially a “Girl Friday”) at a small indie publisher years ago to eventually running her own biz in the Baltimore area, known as The Writer’s Ally. Machate’s presentation was held on December 19 at a Howard County Public Library, an event organized by Maryland co-chair Barbie Halaby and attended by eight other members and potential members.

We’re Not Editors?!

No, Machate told us. It’s too generic a term. What she did was define the different types of editorial roles and urged us not only to understand these differences but also to spread the word . . . to fellow EFA members, current clients and perhaps especially potential clients. “People say authors don’t know there are different kinds of editors,” Machate noted, adding, “Distinguishing makes you stand out.”

We need to ignore (or even better, educate) authors who lump all the skills together. We also need to fight a 21st-century designation: content editors. As a designation, “It’s b.s.,” Machate said. (Note: That’s an abbreviation added by this author.) “It’s too broad. It covers all the content, just in different ways.”

The Book Doctor

This is not a ghostwriter, Machate stressed. It’s more of an overseer of “raw content.”

“You may receive transcripts, notes, or anything else,” she said, adding “it means looking at total rough spots and then making them developmental.” (The next editor’s role.)

So you’ll be providing advice on what else is needed, what has to change, but you won’t be doing the changes. This role, she noted, is the highest paying of all on the editing side.

Developmental (Sometimes Substantive) Editors

These are the folks who are truly “evaluating a manuscript,” Machate told us. “In a fiction work, it might be providing the author feedback on character development. In nonfiction it could be insights on better structure and organization.” (Though of course the latter applies to both.) In nonfiction, for example, there might be a “prescriptive” element; e.g., an exercise chart the editor will tell the author has to be better developed graphically or explained better in the content.

She noted the designation “substantive” isn’t used much anymore. Perhaps most of it all it’s applied to those working in academia, she told us. “Developmental is [when] the author does the main work,” Machate said, whereas those working with academics—especially those experts for whom there’s an ESL challenge—is “a combination of developmental and a bit of line editing.”

Whatever the designation, “It’s [the person] giving the author what’s needed to get the work ‘publishing ready,’” Machate said.

Line by Line: Copyediting and Line Editing

“In copyediting you’d check things out and ask the author, ‘Why are you doing this?’ The line editor will simply go ahead and make the changes,” said Machate. Either way, these are the folks for whom PUGS exist, she explained. “They’re checking Punctuation, Usage, Grammar, and Spelling.” Thanks to this true detailing, “This should be the author’s next to last draft.”

The Antique Word: Proofreading

Some EFA members still remember when we got “proof sheets” from the print house, which were often called “blues.” Maybe now they’re delivered via Adobe but the bottom line is this: “It’s the last bastion of corrections.”

And those better be tiny corrections. “If they want to redo major stuff, it’s going to cost money ’cause they’ll have to totally redo the blues,” Machate emphasized.

At her company, they may fiddle with a few corrections at this stage for free, but not major changes. “We have a ‘fee for change’ indication in contracts. It’s something like $30 per change if it goes beyond a certain level of changes requested,” said Machate.

To Learn More

There are other titles Machate brought up (“Book Coaching” and “Book Shepherd”) and she also offered many other details, but to keep things newsletter short we’ll just add a few other pointers here.

First, during Q&A not only Machate but the attendees as well noted that there are great classes for learning more about copyediting, line editing and proofreading. Of course you should keep checking the EFA’s Education Catalog, but also ask around. I remember having to lecture on web development at the Council of Science Editors, one of many places to learn from specialized colleagues.

Second, Machate admitted that it’s harder to find resources to help you decide if developmental editing is a career—or a career segue—one could make. One resource she suggested was Copywriting.com (currently in transition from a privately owned company to a holding of ACES: The Society for Editing). Another suggestion was this book: Developmental Editing: A Handbook for Freelancers, Authors and Publishers, by Scott Norton. (I just saw it online and I will note it’s almost ten years old.) The EFA held this class in February of last year. Maybe we need to bring it back! [Editor’s note: Several classes in developmental editing have opened for registration since this was written.]

Most of all, I urge everyone to join the EFA’s Discussion List. Even before you begin contributing, you can glean great advice on challenges others have faced, how they’ve overcome such challenges, what it takes to work in a specific field, pay rates and much more.

Wendy J. Meyeroff
Meyeroff has been an EFA member for most of her twenty-plus years in health communications, which includes ghosting, B2B and B2C materials, custom web content and this year, developmental editing. Based in the Baltimore-DC area, she’s served clients across the US and beyond. Her main website is for WM Medical Communications.