An editor works with you to make sure your book is as good as it can possibly be, but there are different types of editing that come in at different stages of your book’s creation.
As the name suggests, a structural editor gives you feedback on the structure of your book. For fiction, this can include plot, pacing and characterisation while, for non-fiction, the editor can look at the way you have organised the material and the clarity of your information. For both types of book, they can also look at the way you use language and how suitable that is for your readership.
Structural editing can result in anything from a simple report to detailed comments written on each page of the manuscript. The different variations include book appraisals, book doctoring and developmental editing.
The structural editor usually works on your book after you have finished the initial writing and rewriting. However, some people ask for help earlier if they feel they need it.
A good editor will give you valuable feedback on any weak points in your book and make suggestions on how to improve it, but they won’t rewrite it for you unless you specifically arrange for them to do it. If you are finding the writing process too daunting or difficult, you may need a ghostwriter rather than an editor.
Copy editing takes place after you have finished final rewrite and the book is ready for publication. The copy editor will suggest corrections to your spelling, punctuation and grammar and point out any problems with continuity. (eg A character with blue eyes on page 5 and brown eyes on page 105 or, as happened to me, a character who rides out on one horse and comes back on another.) They also spot tiny but important details like dashes that are different sizes.
This stage comes after the book is complete and laid out for publication. A proofreader doesn’t look at your manuscript or Word file. Instead, they look at the final files you will send to the ebook or print publisher to pick up any typos and other errors.
Can you use the same person for everything?
Although some editors offer both structural editing and copy editing, I always prefer to use different people for the different tasks. That’s because a copy editor coming to the book for the first time will be more likely to spot small mistakes than someone who has already read it several times and knows what it says.