Different Levels of EDITING – which do you need?

I’ve been neglecting my writer-bloggers and follower-friends so this post is for you!
We all agree (I hope) that our writing needs to edited before publishing. What confuses people is what kind of editing they need. This depends on where you are with your manuscript. You’ll need to specify what you want before you engage anyone so that you don’t pay more, or get more, or less, than you expect. I’ve listed three types of editors you might hire, but of course there is a fourth crucial type of editing and that is self-editing.

checklist alyssa schroeder

checklist alyssa schroeder

Self-editing, obviously you can do yourself. (Most authors advise that you don’t do this more often than every chapter so that the story progression remains the priority at this stage.) Some writers like to use editing software before submitting their work so that the editor can concentrate more on creative aspects. These tools hunt for grammatical errors, redundant wording, look for excessive adverbs etc. This version of “self-editing” makes your editor’s job easier and faster. You might also want to create a style sheet for your editor to save them some time doing this themselves (although undoubtedly they will enlarge it as they go along). A style sheet is an assemblage of words or phrases that are distinctive to your book. For example, you may want a word that has multiple spellings spelled or hyphenated in a certain way or you may have foreign or made up words. The editor can then check your style sheet each time these words come up to make sure they are always consistent.

Most books need several levels of editing, but here is a summary of the ones you need outside help with.

  1. Developmental Editing follows self-editing.

  2. Copy-editing happens after the story-line is fixed – after several rewrites.

  3. Proofreading is necessary for your final edit, after the book has been formatted, and about to be published.

Looking at these three main types of book editing I am emphasizing fiction, but the rules apply – or can be tweaked, for nonfiction as well.

 Developmental Editing

Development editing is the most substantial edit.  It will be a full evaluation of structure, but will overlap with copy-editing and proofreading.  This is an analysis of the development of the story, in the case of a novel, or the logical sequence of chapters, in other books. It encompasses everything from setting, time sequence, character development and of course plot, to a discussion of marketability.


A developmental edit comes early in the process, while still in the drafting stage, but usually after a few rewrites. You may not need developmental editing from a professional.  If you have a skillful writing-critique group they may be able to do this for you.  To me, having an experienced writing group with diplomatic skills – and on your part, listening and having tough skin – is critical. You mother and friends will not be as eagle-eyed and it is not really helpful to have someone read your manuscript and just say, “That’s a very nice story.” You need concrete suggestions and feedback.


Copy-editing is also referred to as line editing, because the editor goes line by line, looking at spelling, jargon, inconsistencies etc.  S/he will correct punctuation and grammar, look for redundancies and repetition of phrases, propose changes to improve the flow of your words, and recommend formatting.

The manuscript is still a draft when it goes for copy-editing even though it will have gone through many revisions before reaching this point.  Only when you are content with the plot, structure, characters, etc. should you send your work to be copy-edited.

Generally editors will use the “track changes” function and explain any revisions or suggestions. The author can then go through these changes and accept or reject each one. Reviewing your copy-edited book is painstaking and may require hours of work and some back and forth with the editor. I was lucky that mine understood the manuscript was “my baby” and she was willing to listen to me when I balked at a suggestion, however I took over 90% of them willingly and there were a few where she put her foot down firmly.



Proofreading is the final polish before your book is printed or distributed as an e-book. At this point the text will have been edited and revised and the publisher, or you, will have paid for someone to finalize the formatting, including the lay-out of any photos, tables, etc.  Proofreading is intended to pick up any typos, misspelled words and inconsistencies that might have been missed previously. Realize that it is too late in the game to delete sentences or alter paragraphs, much less any larger changes; because it is formatted and print-ready, to do so at this juncture would result in an expensive re-do.

The proofs will usually be in PDF format; if they are hard-copy, i.e. printed, they are known as galley proofs, but that is uncommon in this digital era.


I have outlined three types of editing – four if we count self-editing – but they overlap of course, as there are no boundaries between them.  The labels are not that important because you or your publisher will make up a specific list of what is required from the editor.  In the end, it’s up to you, the author (although some publishers might be controlling!) to decide how much or how little editing you would like for your book.

Have you ever hired an editor?, used editing software?  Share your experiences, comments or questions with us

References: http://blog.bookbaby.com/2016/04/-manuscript-editing



5 thoughts on “Different Levels of EDITING – which do you need?

  1. The 3 Levels of Editing Every Author Needs – Editing Essentials

  2. Indie/Self-Publishing (Publishing 101 Part II) – A Place in the World

  3. It’s been my experience that editors don’t always agree which for a writer can be a difficult road to be on. That’s been my only complaint about the editing process – it’s not a precise science by any stretch!


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