The Different Types of Editing.
Updated: Apr 7
There’s no getting around it. Your book needs an editor.
I know, I know. Book editors are expensive. They’re picky. They take too long, and in the indie publishing world, time is money.
Think of it this way: Every plot hole, continuity blip, and grammatical error is another chance your reader will set the book down and never pick it back up. An editor’s job is to ensure that doesn’t happen.
“But Loni,” you say, “there are so many types of editors! I can’t make sense of it all! How will I ever know the difference? How, Loni, will I know which ones to hire for my book?”
…Okay, so maybe you don’t say that, exactly, but I’ve got you either way. Here are some definitions to clear things up:
Instead of typos, grammar, and sentence structure, developmental editors look at your novel’s organization to ensure your story is coherent and compelling. They work with you to build a novel in which all the big-picture pieces, like character and worldbuilding and them and so much more, culminate into an engaging work. Think of them as guides, helping you to mold your novel into its strongest form.
How? Well, let’s keep reading!
An Evaluation Edit
An evaluation edit analyzes the manuscript on a macro level. It highlights structural weaknesses, assesses the completeness of your worldbuilding, critiques your characters’ depth and relatability, and more! But the good editors don’t stop there. An evaluation worth its salt will include actionable suggestions for improvement and highlight the good alongside the can-be-improved. The editor doesn’t change the document itself, but crafts an editorial letter to help you revise your draft.
A Substantive Edit
This is the developmental deep dive. A substantive edit goes beyond the macro and strengthens your novel’s story at the scene, paragraph, and sentence level. With a combination of marginal comments and tracked text changes, it ensures every page supports the heart of your story by guiding you towards a more compelling revision. It may suggest cuts, additions, and further tweaks, but always in the best interests of the story and its author.
From here on out, language is the priority.
Unlike the types of editing above, line edits focus only on clarity, readability, and narrative flow. Line editors highlight word echoes and redundancies, make suggestions to combat clichés, and tighten sentences so your voice shines without the distraction of unnecessary fluff.
Some editors use line edit and substantive edit interchangeably, but we’ll get to that later.
More technical than a line edit, the copy edit addresses errors in punctuation, grammar, spelling, and continuity. They ensure that your prose is grammatically correct and, if you’re working with a traditional publisher, that it adheres to their house style guide. A copy editor should only be hired after your manuscript has been line- and developmentally edited, leaving one last step in the editorial process!
We often confuse proofreading with copy editing, but proofreading happens after the manuscript has been formatted. A proofreader doesn’t touch your story’s content or its organization—your other editors would have taken care of that. Rather, they mark up for typos and layout issues to correct before your novel hits the presses.
That’s the gist!
The editorial industry is weird. The lines between editing types are blurry and easy to cross, and three different editors will have four different names between them for the same level of editing. It’s as inconvenient for us as it likely is for you, so be careful to read how your editor defines each pass so you know what you’re paying for.