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You wrote something, and whether it’s a book or an article, that’s an accomplishment you should celebrate.

But now you want to make sure it’s the best it can be before you publish it. That means you need to edit it. And, if you’re like me and many other writers, self-editing will only do so much. You need fresh eyes on that text. And that means you need an editor.

But what type of editing do you need? That depends on what state your manuscript is in and what kind of help you want with it.

When people think of editing, most have a picture of someone with a red pen marking up spelling and grammar errors. This is indeed a picture of some types of editing (although most editors these days edit on-screen instead of on paper). But it’s not the only kind of editing. There is a lot more to editing than fixing typos.

There are multiple levels of editing, and each level of editing builds upon the previous one. The names of each type of editing vary slightly among editors, so I’ll include the various names below.

To explain what each level of editing looks like, I’ll use the example of a fiction manuscript.

Your manuscript is complete and has gone through a few drafts, but you want to make sure the story, character arc, and structure are the best they can be.

If your manuscript needs a big picture assessment, your best bet is a developmental edit (or structural or substantive edit).

This type of edit is focused on the craft of writing, and is a deep dive into elements of story like theme, plot, characters, dialogue, pacing, tension, and setting. A developmental or structural edit is about making your story work.

The editor will focus on the content of your manuscript rather than the words or sentences. In this type of edit, the editor does not correct things like spelling or grammar errors because the author will usually be doing a lot of revisions based on the feedback, and the manuscript is likely to change significantly.

You know your story is strong, but you’re not sure if your meaning is clear.

If your manuscript needs a check for coherence and language, you’ll want a stylistic edit or line edit.

Rather than looking for spelling or grammar errors, this type of edit focuses on how you use language and word choice to tell your story. The editor will go through your manuscript sentence by sentence (or line by line) to clarify meaning, improve word choice, ensure logical connections, and check that the language is appropriate for the intended audience.

This type of edit is sometimes done as part of a copy edit, but can also be done on its own.

You know your story is well-crafted, but you need someone to find and fix those pesky grammar and spelling errors.

If your story is refined and you want to begin preparing it for publication, you’ll want a copy edit.

This is the type of editing most people think of when they hear the term “editing”. This type of edit focuses on the mechanics of writing like spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, grammar, word usage, and missing words.

In this edit, the editor will carefully comb your manuscript to ensure it is correct, complete, and consistent. Sometimes this edit includes a bit of rewriting or rearranging of the text.

Your manuscript is just about ready to hit publish.

You’re nearly finished. If the book is almost ready for publication, is laid out in it’s final design, and just needs one final check, you need a proofread.

After all the other editing is complete, the last step before publication of anything is proofreading. This type of editing is a careful check to make sure that all the copyedits have been made correctly, and that no new errors have been introduced during layout.

This type of edit double checks a lot of the same things as a copyedit, but it doesn’t make any big changes like rewriting or rearranging text.

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Editing isn’t as simple as some people think. It can be complex and time-consuming. But it’s nearly always worth it. If you can afford it, going through multiple levels of editing will not only make this manuscript better, but the things you learn from your editor will make everything else you write better too.

As a book coach, my feedback is a type of developmental edit as you write. I also occasionally offer full developmental edits to clients. I’d love to chat with you about your coaching and editing needs and see if I can help you meet your writing goals. Send me an email to book your free 20-minute call.

What are the different kinds of editing? On [Image: two grey pencils on a yellow background]
Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash