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What Every Author Should Know About the Four Types of Editing

For every editor you meet, there are differing opinions on the “types” of editing, but for clarity’s sake, I am going to explain the four main “umbrellas” of each kind. By the end, you’ll be able to decide for yourself which editing is right for you.

Traditional publishing houses know how important editing is to satisfy readers, because a few point-of-view slip-ups here, or a few grammar mistakes there, will bring out the worst in readers, and they use that in their reviews.

Here’s a quote from Louise Harnby’s book “Editing Fiction at Sentence Level” that sums this up nicely:

“The mainstream publishing industry knows a thing or two about bringing high-quality books to market, and so it should — it’s been doing it for long enough. Publishers take their books through multiple rounds of editing. The writer who seeks to mimic that process is the writer who’s least likely to garner negative reviews, and the most likely to build fans. That’s key because fans won’t just buy this book; they’ll buy the next book, and the one after that, and the one after that.”

1. Developmental Editing

A developmental editor looks at the big picture. It’s the foundation on which you build your entire story.

It mainly deals with:

  • Character

  • Plot

  • Stake

  • Pacing

  • Genre

  • Narrative viewpoint

  • Tense

  • Story arc

Think macro instead of micro. The editor looks at your book ‌and helps you identify any missing pieces to your story. Whether you need to create more intimacy with your characters or fix gaping plot holes, developmental editors help you speak directly to your ideal readers.

Below, I’ve listed questions you can ask yourself to determine whether your book is ready for developmental editing. You can find these questions in Tiffany Yates Martin’s book, Intuitive Editing.

  1. Have you polished a draft to the best of your abilities, but know it’s still not quite “there” yet?

  2. Have you received constructive feedback from beta readers, crit groups, or writing partners, but aren’t sure how to incorporate it into revisions?

  3. Have you submitted to agents and gotten no nibbles?

  4. Have you submitted to agents and gotten some interest, but no offers?

  5. Are you self-publishing?

If you answered yes to three or more of these questions, you may be ready to hire a developmental editor.

  1. Are you stuck or blocked?

  2. Are you midway through a draft and need help to finish it?

  3. Do you have a bunch of great material/scenes, but no idea how to knit them into a cohesive narrative?

  4. Do you have a great idea and need help writing it?

If you answered yes to three of the questions above, then you are not ready to hire a developmental editor.

If it becomes apparent that your manuscript needs developmental editing, but your budget is tight, you can consider getting an editorial assessment instead.

Or you can download my FREE workbook:

How to Self-Edit Your Novel Before Hiring an Editor
Download PDF • 2.54MB

2. Line Editing

Next comes line editing, my favorite.

It’s the stage where an editor looks at every single sentence and smooths it out. It’s like vacuuming. You start out with a rug full of crumbs and dirt, but once you get the vacuum out, and go back and forth a few times, everything is clean again.

Line editors look at:

  • Decluttering verbs

  • Sorting out filler words

  • Flagging unneeded explanations

  • Downplaying excessive adjectives and adverbs

  • Removing unnecessary modifiers

  • Fixing dangling or misplaced modifiers

  • Reducing repeated descriptions

  • Streamlining dialogue

  • Checking for passive voice

  • Fixing convoluted verb tenses

  • Tweaking ambiguous phrases

  • Correcting awkward narrative and dialogue

I wholeheartedly believe this is where the magic happens when editing a book.

It’s like an artist adding shading and color to their painting. Line editing breathes life into your book and keeps readers turning the page.

For line editing to make sense, however, your story needs to be developmentally sound, otherwise, it’s a waste of time.

Check out my FREE Checklist that will help you determine if your book needs developmental editing, or if you’re ready for line editing.

Do I need developmental editing
Download PDF • 78KB

3. Copy Editing

Copyeditors are the mechanics of grammar and punctuation. They are your best defense against the “grammar police” and will eliminate critical reviews that focus on whether you put the comma in the right place or not.

Their focus is on:

  • Grammar

  • Punctuation

  • Hyphenation

  • Capitalization

  • Fact-checking

They focus on the nuts and bolts of your sentences to make sure they are correct. No loose ends.

A lot of editors will combine line editing with copyediting, as I do because the two work together well. I find it quite easy to smooth out a sentence and correct grammar at the same time because it’s helpful to my clients.

Not every editor does this. When looking for an editor, ask them specifically ‌what they do and make sure it fits your needs.

4. Proofreading

A lot of authors use the term “proofreading” to mean all forms of editing when, in reality, it’s the last stop before publication. They look for surface-level errors before‌ the book hits the shelves because traditional publishing houses know that, even if a book has been through multiple rounds of edits, humans are not error-free.

Take this blog post, for example. It will have an error, even though I am an editor. Hartman's Law of Prescriptivist Retaliation, coined by Jed Hartman, says that “any article or statement about correct grammar, punctuation, or spelling is bound to contain at least one error.”

So that’s why the publishing industry came up with proofreading. It’s checking the “proof” before it’s sent to the printers. It’s the last chance humans have to get as many mistakes cleaned up before readers dive in.


Now you should have a basic understanding of the different types of editing and which one you need.

If your story is structurally sound and you’ve worked out the major kinks, then line editing and copyediting could be your next step.

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