Editing and proofreading fiction vs. non-fiction: is there a difference?
We’ve spoken at great length about the different types of editing, the differences between editing and proofreading, as well as the importance of both. Now to tackle yet another difference, let us take a look at why editing non-fiction is very different from editing a work of fiction. Most people tend to go to the same editor for anything from a story to a job application.
While editors do have a sound foundation in grammar and can proof your work to make it error-free, it takes a subject expert to edit non-fiction documents that require specialized knowledge. Non-fiction editing, just like fiction editing requires coherence in the organization of information, but the focus is totally different. While the goal in a fiction manuscript is to find coherence and organization in storytelling, non-fiction editing requires coherence to strengthen your arguments and make information accessible.
So what exactly is it that sets these apart? We can critically evaluate the differences based on these parameters.
1) Client Relationships
No two editor-client relationships are the same, and this holds true for non-fiction and fiction edits as well.
For authors looking to get published, they are almost always working in close contact with the editor. Additionally, the editing process is initiated very early in the writing stages of the book and is worked on starting there. This is what we refer to as developmental editing, and is done to help you improve your story itself.
Non-fiction editing leads to a starkly different relationship: the level of contact could be minimal. This is to ensure less interference in the information you present so that your research is not compromised. An editor is a language expert, but you’re still the expert in whatever you’re writing about. An editor, put in other words, cannot alter the meaning of your work.
This is probably the most evident difference and a direct derivative of the above. When an editor is handling fiction, it is an ongoing process that requires a lot of time, dedication and modification. Therefore, the kind of feedback that is provided is also very content related and focuses on developing the plot and characters of the book.
However, when it comes to editing non-fiction work, your editor’s priority is to make sure the document is error-free as far as your grammar and language is concerned. The focus here is purely on the grammar and syntax, alongside overall document formatting.
3) Editing Styles
If we’re talking about academic documents (like, if you’re sending in your Ph.D for publication), the editor will have to take into consideration not just your personal requirements but also the style guide provided by your college/school. They will have to adhere to referencing styles as asked by your professor or mandated by your college.
Fiction editing style could possibly change over the course of editing to allow new ideas or trends. Other changes include the crispness of editing – where non-fiction requires the editor to be clear and concise, fiction has space for metaphors and dramatic writing.
While editing a book, editors tend to keep in mind the target audience and are generally flexible to accommodate your requirements as well.
4) Getting the technicalities right
Fiction editing focuses on characters, plot, dialogues and getting the general tonality of the manuscript right in order to appeal to the readers. This is technical-know how, no doubt, but in terms of form. The focus is more on finding the most compelling way to present your story – which is very dependent on how you write, and the language you choose for it.
In non-fiction editing and proofreading, on the other hand, the content of the document is mostly technical objective material- so editors need to focus on ensuring the jargon isn’t misused, and all facts and references are right. Like we said earlier, you’re the subject matter expert here.
5) Overall editing structure
The process of editing is different for fiction and non-fiction work owing to the duration of editing as well.
Think of non-fiction editing as a visit to your doctor. It’s a clinical process that comes into effect only after the writing stage is done, and focuses on treating your illness (grammar errors) based on symptoms described by you (requirements).
Fiction editing is like visiting the pediatrician. Your editor cares about you and your book on a deeper level, and knows all your history and about your vision for the book. It’s a far more intrinsic level of developmental editing, and is a work in progress over a long time till the book is finished.
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