Niching: Editing Levels

Updated on March 1, 2024.

Niche: A place, employment, status, or activity for which a person or thing is best fitted. (Credit: Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary)

As the full saying goes, “A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.” I kicked off my business very much intending to be that jack of all trades. I brought twelve-plus years of technical editing experience and a newly earned Certificate in Editing to the table, after all. I truly thought I knew it all and could be it all for the fiction writers I wanted to work with and the three or four subgenres I wanted to edit.

Of course, as a seventeen-year-old high school senior, I thought I knew all there was to know about the “real world,” too.

I didn’t read my first writing craft book until April of this year, when I booked my first developmental editing client. The first professional development course after the University of Washington’s certificate program? A beginner-level introduction to developmental editing online class through the Editorial Freelancers Association. A weird choice slaps you in the face when you realize how much you don’t know.

Niche down into your comfort zone? Or niche up into something that will simultaneously terrify and excite you every day you sit down in your workspace. I chose the latter.

When I’m not working projects or creating content for the social media platforms I’m on, I spend most of my days educating myself on the two levels of editing that work best as my niches: fiction developmental editing and fiction proofreading.

Developmental Editing

My neurospicy brain does NOT do well with ambiguity. Thanks to my autism, bipolar 2, and ADHD, I like clear steps and clearer boundaries. So why on earth would I choose to niche in this level of the editing process?

Because I can.

I may harp over all the positives and negatives of a decision, live with the occasional task paralysis and executive dysfunction, but once I’ve made up my mind to do something? Good luck stopping me. I held out for six months waiting for the right job opportunity to come along rather than settle for anything less than what I knew I deserved. When that job opportunity never came, I made my own by deciding to go full-time as a freelance editor and make the job hunt my side hustle instead.

Because it’s challenging.

I tend to flit around when it comes to my interests and hobbies. Once I feel like I’ve mastered something, I’m on to the next new thing. With developmental editing, I can never get bored because the learning process is never done. With every aspect I “master” and every craft book I read, three or four get added to the list for conquering. Kind of like my regular TBR list.

Because getting in on the ground floor of a story is so much fun!

During my first course in the Certificate in Editing program, we started off learning about the levels of book editing, with developmental editing being first. There was something about being able to help an author get to the bare bones of their story, the crux of their theme, and how they would convey them and build around them. It felt like the sun went supernova in my chest, I was filled with such a sense of purpose. A little over-the-top analogy, sure, but it’s exactly what it felt like. I was meant to be a developmental editor.

Proofreading

This level isn’t just the last stage of the editing process. It’s my opinion that it’s even more important than developmental editing. Here, an author’s reputation and credibility are truly on the line. It won’t matter how well put-together plot and character arcs are if the formatting is inconsistent, words are misspelled, or whole pages or graphics are missing. Don’t take this to mean I think of proofreading as niching down (if you do, you’ve missed the concept behind the word, so return to the top of this article for a refresher).

Here are two reasons this stage is so important to me.

Because the rules are clear.

In technical editing, things are very much black and white. There is a wrong way and a right way to do things. Both fiction and nonfiction proofreading are the same way. Even with exceptions listed on a style sheet, the proofreader has to check every letter, every punctuation mark, every line break and hyphenation choice, and front and back matter. With the Chicago Manual of Style in hand, along with Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary and a magnifying glass, proofreaders are the last set of eyes on an author’s book before it goes to print. That is an insane yet fulfilling responsibility to bear.

Because I’m dedicated.

A typical proofreading page is 250 words, and the average pace is 10-15 pages an hour. With an 85,000-word manuscript, that’s roughly 30-35 hours of direct labor. But proofreading is less about the reading and more about the proofing. As mentioned above, a proofreader has to be meticulous and willing to tune out everything but the next character in front of them on the page. Yes, I hyperfixate on occasion, but that quality also means that once I start a project, I don’t stop until it’s done.

To me, niching is vital to my long-term success as a fiction editor. It gives me the freedom to focus on what I’m good at professionally while challenging me to continuously build my foundation of knowledge and work toward mastery, even knowing I’ll never be able to learn enough or do enough to be perfect at them. Perfection is impossible, after all. But, by being clear to my clients and myself, I can best help authors reflect on their story one word at a time.

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