Quick Guide to Different Kinds of Editing

Writing a book can take a village. While editing is typically considered the last step before publication, that is not always 100% true. Editing is a collaborative process between editor and author and can start at any point in a book’s life, depending on the needs of the project. 

No matter what stage your book is at currently, there are a few types of editing to consider that can help your work come together. Even for the most seasoned writers, it can feel overwhelming to try to figure out what kind of editorial help your project needs. We will break down the different kinds of editing so you can assess what kind of editorial help your book might need.

Developmental editing

Developmental editing takes a look at the book as a whole and the big picture it is trying to convey to the audience. In fiction, this type of editing focuses on pivotal story elements and helps address plot holes, character development, dialogue, pacing, and phrasing that may inhibit the audience from understanding the story. In nonfiction, developmental editing addresses issues such as structure and organization, content, tone, clarity of message, and appropriateness for the intended audience. This type of editing can change your relationship with your manuscript and often leads to several rounds of revision.

Developmental editing is meant to challenge you and help you reconsider certain elements that you may not be communicating effectively to the reader. That is why it is important to take this step towards the beginning of your process. Developmental editors are less concerned with things like word choice, punctuation, and grammar, and more focused on ensuring that point A leads to B and B to C. Picture this: you want to build a house, and there are many, many steps that need to get done. However, you realize that you cannot put down your new floors until you have a foundation and walls. This is what developmental editors do: they make sure you have a solid foundation, so later on you can put in those wood floors and custom light fixtures that you love. Overall, developmental editing whacks away at certain elements that prevent the reader from seeing the path ahead of them, and then helps you build the elements that will help your book realize its full potential. 

Line Editing

Line editing is the next editorial step. This type of editing is sometimes not necessary as a separate round in itself; instead, it can be included as part of a light developmental edit or heavy copyedit (more about that later). Once the big picture issues like structure and content have been resolved, the line editor will focus on your writing on the sentence and paragraph level, aiming to polish everything in terms of tone, word choice, consistency of voice, flow, and style. This is the type of editing that really makes the words shine. Before you consider having a line editor look at your work, you want to make sure that it has undergone developmental editing and that the foundational aspects of your work are solid. 


Copyediting is the step after line editing, and this is the last editorial stage before the manuscript goes to design and layout. Copyeditors can be considered the great technicians of the editing world. These are the editors who will ensure the work has proper grammar, spelling, punctuation, and formatting. In the case of nonfiction, a copyeditor can also act as a fact checker and help ensure the citations and bibliographic information are complete. In general, copyeditors do not edit for style or content, except in instances where these issues might get in the way of clarity. 


Proofreading is the final stage of editing and the last line of defense for the content of your book; in fact, it is considered by many to be a part of the production and design stage of publishing rather than editorial. Proofreaders look at the final designed pages of a book and do one last review before it goes to print, looking for things like typos, misplaced punctuation, layout errors, capitalization errors, bad breaks in pages or lines, etc. The proofreaders work to fix and correct any errors they may see that the copyeditor or designer missed. They are specialized editors who work to find any mechanical errors and make sure that the words look on the pages as they should.

It is invaluable for writers to have help from an editor—or, in many cases, more than one editor—who can look at their manuscript objectively and provide balanced, professional insight into how to make it shine. Even experienced writers often still need help articulating their ideas in the most effective way possible. We encourage you to take some time to let your manuscript sit and give yourself some distance, so you can return to it with fresh eyes and better see where your project has room to grow. Then we’d love to hear from you to see how Otterpine can help you turn your great ideas into a great book!


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