Book Editing Terms You Should Know

BY ANDREA MORAN • November 10, 2023

Book Editing Terms You Should Know

If you prefer to stick to writing without the bother of learning all that editor speak, you’re not alone. But even if you have no desire to delve into the world of editing yourself, it’s still important to familiarize yourself with common editing terms.

Not only will it help you better understand the feedback you get from your own editor, but it will also likely make you feel more comfortable in your role as an author. Understanding the common terms and expectations in the publishing world can do wonders to boost your confidence when it comes to writing and selling your work.

Read on for a bare-bones introduction to the world of book editing. And welcome—trust me, it will be fun!

As you may remember from your school days, this is an alphabetized list of all the sources used during the writing of a book or article. It’s usually seen at the conclusion of a nonfiction work.

Block quote
This is a long quotation, usually more than one hundred words, indented on both sides to set it apart from the rest of the text.

You often hear the phrase “Cite your sources!” A citation is simply a note within the text (or sometimes in a footnote or endnote, depending on your preferred style) that attributes the preceding information to a particular source.

Clean copy
This is what it’s called when we submit an edited and proofread version of a manuscript to the author. Typically, authors will receive two copies of their document: one that has tracked changes to show exactly what was altered and why, and one that is considered the clean copy, meaning that all the aforementioned changes have been applied.

Chicago style
Named after the Chicago Manual of Style (now on its seventeenth edition), this is the grammar and writing style guide most often used in the book publishing industry. It presents the guidelines for everything from commas and capitalization to italicization and bibliographies (and much, much more). When you get your book edited, you can be 99.9 percent sure that the editor will use Chicago style.

This process is similar to proofreading in the sense that copyediting examines a manuscript for grammatical, punctuation, spelling, and usage errors. A copyeditor will also make sure your document sticks to a particular style guide (most likely Chicago style, as mentioned above) and point out minor continuity issues.

Content editing
While there are different levels of editing out there, this is a deep dive into your work. A content editor focuses on a book’s overarching plot to make sure there are no continuity errors and that the tone and voice remain consistent. The content editor will also point out anything else that might weaken the book’s message.

Developmental editing
This type of editing, called collaborative editing here at Kirkus Editorial, is the best choice when you want a big-picture look at your novel. A developmental editor will ensure that the book as a whole is organized in a way that makes the most sense for the subject matter, shifting around chapters if necessary and requesting more material—or, alternatively, suggesting lengthy cuts of certain sections.

Final proofs
Authors love to see these because it means the book is ready to go to the printer. Final proofs refer to the (surprise!) final version of a manuscript that has been approved by both the author and the publisher.

This is usually completed by a design team whose sole purpose is to lay out your manuscript to create the book’s pages. During this stage, designers can help you with everything from fonts to fleurons.

Freelance editor
Writers and editors who work as freelancers are technically self-employed. They are then hired directly by the writer or a publisher. Sometimes the writer hires a company who then contracts out the work to various freelancers for any editing needs.

Even though editing isn’t technically in its title, proofreading is definitely a type of editing—one that concerns itself with the technical bits of a book that involve punctuation, spelling, grammar, and usage. Proofreading is often completed after several rounds of other types of editing, including copyediting.

Research editing
This editing will usually be part of the process for any manuscript that has a lot of factual information or historical references (think nonfiction or historical romance). A research editor checks facts and sources to make sure the author used them accurately and consistently.

This is what it’s called when an author is asked to review and rewrite parts of their manuscript. Typically an author will revise after each round of editing.

Style sheet
Every author has their own personal preference for certain things, and a style sheet lays that all out. Usually created by editors and proofreaders, this is a working list of the stylistic choices of an author that may not necessarily align with (or that sometimes directly contradicts) a more official guide like Chicago style. It’s a handy reference for all the editors who work on that title, and it’s also used to apply the same preferences across an entire series.

And there you have it! A quick, no-nonsense guide to the most common editing terms you will likely run into during your journey as a writer. Of course, there are many more than the ones mentioned here, but hopefully this list helps you feel more confident when interacting with others in the industry.

Andrea Moran lives outside of Nashville with her husband and two kids. She’s a professional copywriter and editor who loves all things books. Find her on LinkedIn.

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