Line Editing and Copy Editing
A line edit, like a copy edit, occurs later in the process and focuses on the details of execution and the use of language, however, a line edit is in a sense more comprehensive than a copy edit; it addresses the way you handle language to communicate your story at the sentence and paragraph level. Is your language clear, fluid, and pleasurable to read? Does it convey a sense of atmosphere, emotion, and tone? Do the words you’ve chosen convey precise meaning, or are you using clichés? Are there overused words, run-on sentences, or wordy execution? Do you use repetitive sentence structure? Are there redundancies? Can paragraphs be tightened? Is the language bland? Line editing that addresses the page-by-page, sentence-by-sentence content is one of my strongest skill sets—I simply love the precision work of polishing the gem that is the manuscript in the rough, helping an author communicate engagingly, with clarity and elegance.
Copy editing is much more concerned with the technicalities of execution and addresses flaws in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and syntax. Copy editing requires an intense rules-based understanding of American English usage in accordance with the Chicago Manual of Style, the industry standard. Many general editors don’t have this level of familiarity with CMS, but most copy editors—myself included—have CMS committed to memory. Hey, it’s a nerdy occupation, but someone’s got to do it! At a publishing house, the copy editor is usually the last person (before the proofreader) to touch a manuscript before it goes into production.
Sometimes a manuscript will need a complete line edit prior to the copy edit because there are simply too many issues that involve the handling of language, in which case line editing should be done separately from copy editing. I always submit a sample line edit to a client before starting work on a manuscript to make sure the author is in agreement with the goal of this level of editing and satisfied with what I can do. However, in some cases where the manuscript is fairly well-written, only minimal line editing is required prior to a copy edit, so in these cases I will do a bit of both, smoothing out the awkward language while attending to the technicalities prior to production.
Line editing and copy editing involve hands-on work on the manuscript, in which all changes to the text are made in in Microsoft Word’s tracked changes feature.