Determining the Best Editing for You and Your Book

Editing is an essential part of any successful book. Often, it’s what turns a good story into a great one. For authors new to the editing process there are many details to sort through, including what type of editing you need, how much, and when you should hire a professional. But before you even think about reaching for that red pen, let's first define the different types of book editing.

Types of book editing

There are numerous types of editing and even more names for them. The terms often mean different things to different people. So, before you hire an editor, make sure you know exactly what you’re getting. Don't assume your definition matches theirs. With that said, here are the standard definitions for the four main types of book editing.

Developmental editing

Developmental editing (sometimes called stylistic, substantive, or content editing) ensures the foundation of a book is solid and the story is polished. During developmental editing the editor looks at the manuscript as a whole and evaluates what works and what doesn't. Think big picture. For fiction books, the developmental editor examines the characters, plot, structure, continuities, and pacing. For nonfiction books, the editor focuses on the organization and structure of the work as a whole.

Line editing

Line editing examines the manuscript line by line and focuses on the craft of writing. It is often done in conjunction with developmental editing, but not necessarily. A line editor takes a closer look at the manuscript and reviews writing style, word choice, paragraph structure and flow, redundancies, and areas that need clarification. A line editor is not focused on grammar and typos, but helps to improve the quality of your writing.


While developmental editors look at big picture items, copyeditors take a narrow view to fine tune the details. Copyediting includes fixing errors in grammar, syntax, and punctuation. Copyeditors don't attempt to fix the overall story, so don't expect your copyeditor to identify errors in your manuscript's plot or structure.


Once the manuscript is formatted, proofreading ensures there are no formatting mistakes, typos, or inconsistencies.  Proofreading also includes making sure changes are made between versions of manuscripts. This is typically handled by the production department of a traditional publishing company, but the author may also be involved. Authors self-publishing are ultimately responsible for proofreading.

How much editing does your book need?

All manuscripts need editing. But the amount of editing your book needs depends on two things: your publishing method and your personal practices and skills. First, your publishing method is a major factor in the amount of editing needed. When you self-publish, it's up to you to supply a fully-edited and finished version of your book. That means you're responsible for any editing throughout the publishing process. You can hire editors independently or purchase editing services through your self-publishing service provider. Traditional publishing companies typically have in-house editors who provide copyediting and proofreading. However, you should still consider developmental editing before submission.

Second, consider your personal practices and skills. For example, if you are notoriously bad at grammar and punctuation, you might need copyediting prior to querying agents and traditional publishers. This makes you (and your book) appear more polished and professional, thus boosting your chances of landing a contract. If your personal practices involve heavy critiques and rewrites through a writer's group, your manuscript may not need as much work as one that hasn't been read by anyone else.

When to get an editor involved

Nothing hurts a book's credibility more than poor grammar and typos. You want readers focused on your book's story and message, not missing punctuation or misspelled words. Everyone needs an outside perspective on their work, and a professional editor may be the right person for the job. By investing in editing now, you will reap the benefits when your book rests in the reader’s hands.

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