One of our editors had an interesting conversation last week with an author regarding the various types of editing. I've been in this industry for so long that I'd forgotten some people didn't know there was more than one form of editing or what each type provides.
Content editors are the broadest form of editors. They read a work and provide feedback or guidance on whether they believe the book, chapter or scene is working. This can involve taking a close look at the storyline, recommending changes to the plot or characters, commenting on whether the point of view works or doesn't, the pacing (too fast or too slow) and genre-specific issues.
When an author asks a friend or relative to "edit" their work, most often they get a broad form of content editing, which can range from a few sentences on whether the book is good to any or all of the categories mentioned above.
Line editors do everything a content editor would do, but they also perform a much more in-depth service. They look more closely at grammar, flow of sentences and scenes, punctuation, the relevance of text and scenes, adjectives, nouns, and redundancy. This is a slower read, as you can imagine, and often means going through the entire book or certain passages multiple times to get it just right.
Micro-editing, in addition to performing all the tasks in content and line editing, drills even deeper. They analyze the scenes and the characters, making sure each character stays in character, questioning the motive of each character and each scene, and often critiques scenes, paragraphs, and sentences right down to whether the correct word was used -- or the best word in a particular circumstance.
There was a time in the publishing industry in which literary agents and editors performed this type of detailed editing, which often stretched across months or years. It is very rarely found in today's publishing environment except with highly literary works that would rival classic literature.
Technical editing is used only with certain scenes. It involves experts in fields such as law enforcement, medicine, the law, government agencies or specific vocations - computers, journalism, etc.
Technical editing may also have more to do with culture than a vocation. A woman in 1960's Mississippi is different from a woman in the same place but in 2013... And very different from a woman in Saudi Arabia, South America, the Amazon, or Pakistan. Even differences between the American culture and other English-speaking allies (Great Britain, for example) are more pronounced than one might think.
Technical editing may also be an age: one of our authors routinely sends scenes to teenagers to get their "take" on whether their peers may react the same way as a teenager in his book is portrayed.
Writing is Rewriting
Many new authors have the impression that the first draft is the final, and it's far from it. It's just the beginning. In order to find its audience and do well, the book needs to be polished and perfected, using any or all of the types of editing outlined above. Perhaps the largest disservice any author can do to themselves is attempt to rush their book into the marketplace, often self-publishing or becoming defensive when suggestions are made to change it.
Analyze each piece of advice you receive and weigh its merits. Then edit, edit, edit and edit.