What is line-editing, and do I need it?

The St. Paul's Editing Service - David Brookes


As part of my short series on editorial processes, I will be looking at proofreading, line-editing and copy-editing to give some insight onto the features that distinguish them from one another. Last month I looked at proofreading. This article covers a more substantive approach, line-editing.

What is line-editing?
Line-editing, unsurprisingly, works at the ‘line level’ of your text. Often confused with copy-editing (the subject of a future post), this is not a more intensive proofread, but a genuine deep edit that examines the detail of your writing to generally enhance your work. A line-editor will help with clumsy wording and sentence structure, improving your clarity and flow, and fact-checking. It could involve the moving, cutting or adding of whole paragraphs (or, if you really need it, chapters). This is generally what most laypeople think of as “editing”.

A deeper look
A proofreader looks for errors such as typos or obvious blunders. A copy-editor will work on things like grammar and consistency of language and regional spelling (i.e. UK or US English). A line-editor’s job usually comes before both of these things, and works hard to draw out the best from every line in your text. It could be considered “heavy editing” and, at the end of the process, you may be looking at a completely different piece of writing to the one you started with.

Rewording of sentences will help get rid of unnecessary passive voice, extensive adverbs (which Stephen King described as paving ‘the road to hell’) repeated words and phrases, tautology, cliché, overwriting, and mixed or broken metaphors and similes. There’s also an element of fact-checking and improving on the writer’s general voice and style.

Voice is something that I would prefer not to interfere with as an editor, but sometimes it’s necessary. Take a novel. If the writer’s personal voice is too strong, it can draw the reader out of the moment and spoil the illusion that all good fiction strives for. Charlotte Brontë is often lauded for breaking this illusion in Jayne Eyre (“Reader, I married him.”) and good editors have been undoing the damage she caused ever since! Voice should not be confused with style, which is (read “should be”) unique to every writer and carries an element of their voice within it.

Tone is also examined, to make sure that it’s appropriate. In an autobiography I would expect the writer’s voice, style and tone to naturally be perfectly appropriate, since it’s their story after all, but even here tone can distract or confuse the reader. It wouldn’t do to make jokes throughout the chapter of your heartbreaking divorce, for example, but the very nature of reliving such an upsetting episode could interfere with the writer’s sense of what’s appropriate for the scene. Likewise, a children’s picture book with a deadly serious tone probably wouldn’t go down so well (“I must protest, Sam-I-Am. I most sincerely would prefer not to eat your green eggs and ham.”).

I generally consider my job as a line-editor to scrub out anything that holds the text back and, if possible, also elevate the text to something closer to the writer’s original vision for their work, helping with vocabulary, sentence structure and imagery. I would also work (in the case of fiction) on characterisation, plotting and originality.

In terms of an ongoing editing process, I would expect line-editing to come first. Once the writer has written their first draft and given it a once- (or twice-) over and can no longer see how it can be improved, the line-editor gets a go. You could, potentially, end up with something completely different by the time they’ve finished, but it should be improved. The reason this would come before copy-editing is because there’s no use having a copy-editor scour your novel for problems with grammar, typos and other minute issues if the line-editor is going to cut that pointless dream sequence or rewrite all your dialogue afterwards.

Do I really need a line-editor?
How do I answer this?  YES … Probably.

If you’ve finished working on a blog post or some SEO content for a website, there’s a case for saying that deep editing is unlikely to be a major advantage. Generally your proofreader, if they’re feeling generous, will point out any glaring errors whilst correcting your typos.However, if English isn’t your first language or if you’re a new hand at writing, an editor will really help you to develop simply by showing you where you might be going wrong (ideally with some helpful annotations to justify their changes and suggestions).

If you’re writing an essay, you’d be better off with a copy-editor than a proofreader so that you can have your grammar examined (not all proofreaders consider grammar part of their purview), and a line-editor may be of use there too. Most substantive edits will be a mixture of line-editing and copy-editing anyway, so it’s important to talk with your editor to discuss exactly what you expect from the process. Many fiction writers, when looking for an editor, are seeking a line-editor who will work on their copy too.

The people who I know who have undergone a third-party editing process have always been very relieved that they did!



…learn from your editor!




Hiring a Freelance Editor: Dos and Don’ts

David Brookes editor

If you’re thinking of hiring a professional proofreader or editor to look at your essay, thesis, fiction, CV or business report, then you aren’t the only one. This is extremely common practice across the world, and there are a lot of resources available to make this simple and easy for you.

There are several websites for hiring freelancers. Elance.com and Freelancer.com are two popular examples. As a freelance editor and ghostwriter, I prefer Freelancer.com for its ease of use and the quality of the projects that are available. Think of these sites as a kind of eBay for services. You, the employer, will post a project listing your requirements, budget and deadline, and freelancers will tender for the job. One of them might be me, so keep an eye out for the best!

David Brookes, freelance writer and editorLook at this guy! He looks so hardworking and honest. You’d trust him to babysit your kids!

When looking to hire a freelance proofreader or editor, there are some simple dos and don’ts that you should bear in mind:


  • Hire the cheapest freelancer. I hate to use adages, but “you get what you pay for” is true for editing and ghostwriting services too. The cheapest are often non-native speakers with poor skills, or actually agencies disguised as individuals. If someone seems like the best person for the job, this should be your priority, not the fee. Maybe it will be worth spending those few extra quid.
  • Expect a freelancer to sign a contract just because you asked. You might think an off-the-net non-disclosure agreement or ghostwriting contract is sound, but most freelancers aren’t lawyers and you probably aren’t either. If you feel a contract is necessary, work with your freelancer to write one that is as simple as possible that you can both accept – it’s still binding, with the added advantage that you both actually know what the hell you’re signing!
  • Disrespect the professional. Just because you’re hiring someone it doesn’t mean you can treat them like dirt. A lot of people subconsciously watch others for the ‘waiter rule‘, so behave like someone is watching (often there is: most freelance sites have a dispute and arbitration team). You will get better results by building rapport and acting sympathetically towards your freelancer’s other commitments and responsibilities. So be cool, guy.


  • Be clear with your requirements. My favourite employers are ones who tell me exactly what they expect from me. That way I can do a great  job for them first time without any complications or second attempts. It works out best for everybody that way, so don’t feel that you’re asking too much by spelling out your project requirements.
  • Choose your freelancer carefully – very carefully. There are a lot of freelancers out there. Some of them are underqualified, and some are downright shifty. If you’re writing in English, you will get better results hiring someone who’s native language is English. This may sound obvious, but there are a lot of people on freelancing sites, particular from India and Africa, who have convincing proposals and highly-rated reviews. However, I’ve spoken first hand with people who have paid for well-written proposals, and many reviews are from employers in their own countries who don’t necessarily realise they have received a substandard product. Be wary of profiles that don’t have an individual touch, such as a photo – a lot of ‘freelancers’ are actually agencies, where one person with decent English skills subcontracts to lesser-skilled workers in exchange for a commission. Chat to your freelancer before hiring them and be prepared to ask blunt questions.
  • Ask for testimonials and/or samples. One way of weeding out the dodgy freelancers is to ask for testimonials and samples of their editing work. These can be faked too, but if you’re really astute you will probably spot those that might be copied off the internet, or with annotations written in a style different to your freelancer’s manner of speaking. If you’re hiring via a site like Freelancer.com, check out the freelancer’s reviews in detail instead of just relying on the overall rating.
  • Have fun! Your editor is a person too, and however professional they behave they are just as likely as you to want a friendly chat and how-d’you-do if you both have the time. Especially when working on longer texts like theses or novels, you’ll be spending a lot of time talking to one another, so don’t be afraid to get to know your editor, build a rapport, and enjoy the process!



David Brookes is a freelance editor in the UK. You can hire him via the Contact page or his profile on Freelancer.com.

All Things New: 2015

Fireworks over the Thames in London, New Year's Eve 2015

Fireworks over the Thames, London – New Year’s Eve 2015

Happy New Year for 2015!

A lot of people are asking what I’ve been up to since my brief misadventure in China a few months ago.

It’s been a tough few years, between an awful corporate job in 2012, to landing back in the real world after six months traveling India and Asia, and my TEFL training and subsequent awryness (I’m MAKING it a real word) last year.  I flew to China; I came back.  I had the option of beginning the cycle again by getting another crummy job in another  office, neither employing my qualifications or creativity for a basic minimum wage in an environment I couldn’t stand.  I chose not to take that option.

For the last year or so I’ve been taking the occasional bit of work editing.  A lot of this business came via word of mouth and my clients were mostly foreign students who had essays and dissertations to hand in and wanted a bit of help with their written English.  Sheffield is blessedly cosmopolitan and its two universities has students from all over the world.

Since I got back to the UK I decided to begin freelancing full-time, and have since had a lot of success.  Editing and proofreading has been a handy constant, from education, academia and journals, to resumes and even fiction, poetry and love letters.  I’ve also developed a reputation for ghostwriting fiction and articles, and have taken commissions in various genres with plenty of repeat business.  Lastly, I’ve managed to flog a few of my own humble fiction and screenplays.  I’m surprised by how quickly it’s all taken off.

It’s strange that after years of hard work and mixed success, I’m suddenly able to legitimately call myself a writer.  It’s a very strange feeling to have pretty much realised my oldest dream.

I’ve also had a fascinating education these last two months.  Either from editing various papers or by researching for my own writing/ghostwriting, I’ve made plenty of deposits into my Bank of Useless Information.  I’ve had The Bank for years, much to the bemusement of my friends and family.  Recently I’ve developed my knowledge of:

  •  Ophthalmology (that’s eyeballs to you and me)
  •  South African culture
  •  Pheonicia
  •  Middle-Eastern mysticism
  •  Current trends in erotica
  •  The Armenian art scene
  •  Scientific psychological experiments involving monkeys
  •  Species of cats
  •  The state of the Chinese housing market
  •  South American folklore
  •  Jewish holocaust poetry

… And they’re just the ones that I can tell you about without betraying confidentiality (which I take seriously).  It’s been a wild ride, accentuated by the occasional bouts of panic that are probably common amongst the self-employed.  The good news is that I’ve had some incredibly flattering feedback from all my clients so far.  Hopefully I can continue that trend into 2015, whilst TEFL and salaries take a back seat.

It seems a little redundant to have a blog about my exploits ‘abroad’ now that I’m more-or-less permanently based in the UK for the forseeable future, but I think I’ll keep the title.  Consider me ‘abroad’ on the ocean of discovery as I see where my new life takes me!

All the best for the New Year, and much love,

David Brookes
Freelance Writer & Editor