Before I get started, you should definitely read:
Now, you back? Good. I've exchanged a lot of pages with a lot of writers. Some of them are famous authors, some of them are regular authors, some of them are aspiring authors, and some of them are just starting out. There is great value in all of those examples, for both writers involved.
In exchanging all those pages, I've learned a lot of things. For one, no two writers work exactly the same. Probably when drafting and revising too, but I'm talking about critiquing here. A lot of times, when exchanging work with another writer, there isn't time for what I like to call "a deep critique," and so we go through a quick "beta read," and end up exchanging an editorial letter, that usually averages around 2-5 pages, and really only covers big picture topics. Character Arc, Theme, Plot, Pacing, and so on.
These are great, and they certainly help, but personally? Nothing helps me polish my manuscripts more than a good deep critique. One that is so full of highlights, and tracked changes, and comments, and inserted colored text that it looks like a burst pinata at a third grade birthday party.
Nothing inspires me more than really digging in. And I mean both with feedback someone has given me on my work, and in doing the same for someone else.
So, a deep critique. What goes into it? Like I said, it can be different for every writer, but this is what I do:
I'm no professional, and it isn't quite this simple, but basically copy-editing is looking at the text (copy is text of any kind before it gets typeset in preparation for printing, binding, and publishing) on the most microscopic level. Is everything spelled right? Is the grammar correct? Are words properly capitalized? Is the punctuation correctly used and properly placed?
Basically, copy-editing is pointing out mistakes. Again, it's not that simple, but that is the basic concept.
I usually try to do a little copy-editing when I critique. A lot of times, the things I point out will be stylistic choices, and the writer knows what I'm pointing out is just a suggestion, so much of the changes are eventually ignored, but the important thing is to point them out, and let the author decide for themselves whether they made that choice on purpose.
Some writers vehemently do not want you to copy-edit their text during critique. They will usually clue you into this in one way or another. For example, "I'm sending you this in .PDF format, so you can turn your inner editor off."
That's generally a hint that means don't send me back a document that has more red on it than black and white.
When working on critique exchanges with a fellow writer, it's important to know what they're looking for, and not to waste your time giving them feedback they aren't interested in, and honestly might offend them.
For a long time I did not understand the difference between line-editing and copy-editing, and to be honest, as far as I know, there is still some overlap, and a few gray areas. That said, if we're sticking with the microscope metaphor, line-editing is generally considered a level above copy-editing on the big picture scale, but the two are tied together closely enough that sometimes the same person can do them both.
In informal critique exchanges, I certainly try to. Line-editing, like copy-editing, still deals with sentence structure, and does not concern itself with macro-level concepts like pacing and plot. The main thing line-editing seeks to achieve is consistency. If you called the love interest's dad Jon with no H in chapter 3, did he suddenly gain a letter in the spelling in chapter 10? If the antagonist has a verbal tic in which he refuses to speak in contractions, does he suddenly say "ain't" in chapter 12?
Passive voice, syntax, repeated words, subject/verb agreement. There are many things to look for, but the job of a good line edit still considers a manuscript one sentence at a time.
Why is there no hyphen in this one? I'm not sure either.
Anyway, developmental editing is the highest level gaze a manuscript gets. Oftentimes, major changes of this kind are best left to a developmental editor who works for a publisher who is actually paying you to publish your manuscript, but when exchanging pages with other writers, there is nothing wrong with making suggestions, knowing that your critique partner will only implement those that resonate with her vision for her story.
Developmental editing concerns itself with the biggest of the big picture topics. Plot, pacing, character arc and development, theme, and so on. It considers a manuscript by the paragraph, page, scene, and even chapter. Oftentimes, scenes can be moved around to improve tension or build suspense. Other times, scenes can be cut or lengthened or even inserted (as in a new scene), depending on just what the story needs at that position in the tale.
Of course, this is all highly subjective, and I would definitely recommend second and third and fourth opinions if you're considering making these kinds of sweeping changes to a manuscript, but I have personally re-written an entire book from scratch before, and it was a great learning experience.
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In the meantime, when it comes to general manuscript cleanup, you should absolutely check out this post by my favorite editor, Andrew Karre from Carolrhoda Lab.