What Type Of Book Editing Do You Need? And When?

types of editing

There are different types of book editing — including proofreading, copy editing, line editing, and developmental editing — for different stages of the publication process. You should be aware of what kind of editing your manuscript needs and what is involved in each type.

Updated January 2018.

“An editor is a person who knows more about writing than writers do but who has escaped the terrible desire to write.” —E.B. White

Many writers are confused about the different types of book editing. Even editors can’t agree on exactly what’s involved in each type, and that’s because it’s difficult to draw definite lines between them. The definition can change with each editing job, and is only finally decided in the author or publisher’s brief to the editor – the outline of exactly what the author or publisher requires from the editor – which can range from correcting only the obvious typos to suggesting word count cuts or changes to story structure, plot, and characters.

We’ll look at the four main types of book editing: proofreading, copy editing, line editing, and developmental editing.

1. Proofreading

Proofreading gets its name from the “proofs” typesetters produce before the final print run. The text has been laid out into pages, complete with photos, diagrams, tables, etc. These used to be called galley proofs (and still are when printed), but in these days of electronic publications, they’re more commonly called uncorrected proofs and usually come as a PDF file.

At this point, the publisher (a company or an independent author) will have paid for someone – or worked hard themselves – to set the manuscript text into the book’s final format. That means it’s too late to make any major structural changes or delete paragraphs and sentences, as this has a knock-on effect in the subsequent pages. It can cost a lot of time and money to redesign the book after such major changes.

Proofreading comes at the end of the publication cycle. It’s the final check before the book is printed or, in the case of eBooks, before it is published and sent to distributors.

For this reason, proofreading is intended to pick up the final typos and spelling mistakes and to correct inconsistencies, like making sure the word “proofreading” is always spelled as one word and not “proof-reading” or “proof reading.”

In the case of printed books, proofreaders also look for awkward word splits at the end of a line and ensure there is no ugly single line left at the top of the page from the previous paragraph (known in publishing as a widow) or at the bottom of the page, which really belongs with the paragraph on the next page (orphan).

Proofreading is only done after the raw manuscript has already been edited. Before that, the text should have at least gone through…

2. Copy Editing

Copy, in the publishing world, refers to the text. So, copy editing could just as easily be called text editing. It’s a word-by-word edit that addresses grammar, usage, and consistency issues. Copy editors will check for typos and spelling errors along with correcting grammar, language, and syntax errors. They will also pay particular attention to punctuation such as commas, semicolons, and quotation marks.

Editors work on a copy of the author’s manuscript, usually a Word file, using the track changes function and adding comments to explain any changes or make revision suggestions. The author can then go through each of the changes and accept or reject them one by one and make any revisions where necessary.

Only when the author is completely satisfied with the plot, story structure, characterization, settings, etc. is the manuscript ready for copy editing. And nobody, no matter how good, gets all that right with a first draft.

3. Line Editing

Line editing is a more intensive structural edit that focuses on the finer aspects of language – the flow of ideas, transition elements, tone, and style. Line editors expand their efforts to suggest changes to make sentences crisper and tighter by fixing redundancy and verbosity issues, while improving awkward sentence and paragraph construction without a full rewrite. Editors will look at the manuscript using a holistic methodology with a review of key aspects of the manuscript: the narrative, vocabulary, structure, characterization, style, and development.

4. Developmental editing

Development editing means the book gets a full, substantial, structural, developmental edit. This will often include everything that’s involved in proofreading and copy-editing, plus a detailed critique of the essential elements of the story (in the case of a novel), which include:

  • Setting
  • Timeline
  • Characterization
  • Plot
  • Story structure
  • Pacing
  • Presentation
  • Marketability

A developmental edit will come early in the publication process, while the author is still in the drafting stage. The author will have rewritten the manuscript a few times before it is ready for a developmental edit.

Editing Guide bannerNot every book needs developmental editing from a professional editor. Feedback from competent beta readers or a discerning writing group can be enough to iron out all the wrinkles in the book’s structure.

Note that the words ‘competent’ and ‘discerning’ are key in that last sentence. That rarely means your family and friends, wonderful though they may be. You wouldn’t ask the average lawyer, sales director, or math teacher to repair your car, so it’s rarely a good idea to trust them with your life’s work.

As with copy editing, the editor may use track changes to make revision suggestions directly onto a copy of the manuscript, but the developmental edit will usually include a separate critique document detailing — sometimes chapter by chapter — the changes the author could make to improve the areas listed above.

To recap:

  1. Developmental editing comes early in the writing process, after a few drafts, and not every book needs it (though most do).
  2. Copy editing and line editing are done when the author is satisfied with the story after several rewrites. Every book should be copy edited.
  3. Proofreading is necessary for only the final, formatted book, right before publication, and every book needs proofreading.

In the end, it’s up to you, the author, to decide how much or how little editing you would like for your book. You might not want the editor to interfere with the format, for example, and you might have your own ideas for a particular style issue (always The Beatles, not the Beatles). It certainly helps to be aware of what an editor can do, and what can be done at each stage of your rewriting. Writing is, after all, rewriting. And editing. But, of course, I would say that.

Related Posts
Does My Book Need Editing?
Step #1 To Finding Your Readers: Make The Best Book You Can
How Editing Software Helps Improve Your Manuscript
The Importance Of Editing For The Self-published Author
The Multi-Layer Book Edit


  1. Done several rewrites on my manuscript, “Matter of Conscience,” based on my experience in the 60’s-early 70’s, dealing with the Vietnam War as a conscientious objector. Though not a historian, merely a window for readers from which to peer, I still have many references which I’ve done my best to acknowledge. But this is a different beast that a fictional novel – more difficult, I feel. Could address the kind of editor (s) I need?

    • Bruce, you’re right: a memoir or autobiography is a different beast from a fictional novel, often because it’s difficult to distance yourself from your past experiences. Nevertheless, every manuscript (no matter the genre) requires the same three types of editors.

    • Non-Fiction is certainly a different beast from fiction, and references can be tricky to handle and ensure they are all consistent. That’s certainly the kind of work an editor can help with. If it’s only checking the text for errors and making the references consistent, then that would fall under proofreading. If you want detailed feedback on your story, then go for a developmental edit. You might be happy with your story, especially since this is your personal experience, but if you’re not confident about your spelling and grammar then a copy-edit would be better.

      My advice would be to try a few editors with sample pages to the see the difference editing can make to your mansucript and to find someone who ‘clicks’ – understands – your story and style.

      Good luck with it, Bruce. So much has been written about the Vietnam War that it’s difficult to find something that really adds to the bigger picture, and this sounds like an interesting direction to go in.

      All the best,


  2. Once gave my manuscript for editing. It came back to me with many errors introduced by the editor. Just too many cowboys and cowgirls out there calling themselves editors. Watch out.

    • Unfortunately, that’s true. It’s always wise to inquire about an editor’s education and experience, ask for references (be sure to actually talk to the references) and see a sample of his or her work.

  3. My novel is historical fiction. I feel this genre needs a different kind of editor than fiction or nonfiction. Is there a certain place to find an editor with the expertise to do this correctly or does that even matter?

      • Having written, edited and published historical fiction, I can tell you that you need to check and recheck your facts. Be sure your characters are interesting but flawed, good but not too sweet and your battle scenes like watching a movie, each movement adds to the overall picture. State at the beginning what country, time period and exact location your novel is set in. When it’s fantasy, give the same information. It’s vital to place your reader inside the story as soon as possible.
        I hope you’ve found what you’re looking for. Don’t be afraid of rewriting–every book needs to be rewritten several times to be cohesive. Most authors think they’re finished once they reach The End, but the work has just begun!

  4. Excellent article! Even though it can be disheartening to see multiple corrections and suggested changes, know that the editor is working for you, not against you. All three types of editors help you create the best book possible – which ultimately helps you sell more books.

    • Thanks for the feedback, Dalene. Greatly appreciated. And remember, it’s not necessarily about three types of editor. Any good editor could do all three types of editing, except that the editor who did the copy-editing or substantial editing on a novel shouldn’t be the one who does the proofreading as that person would be too close to the material. So, strictly speaking, each book should have two professionals look at it: one for the substantive/copy-edit and one for the proofreading.

      A good point too about the editor working for you. And I think authors understand that when the critique comes with the right intention.



        • Argh… Whenever we do an editing piece I feel an extra bit of pressure not to miss anything. I try to catch that stuff in the comments, too. (I’ve made the edit to Jim’s comment).

  5. Great summary! I usually refer to copy edits as line edits, but same principles apply!

    Definitely do your due diligence when you decide to hire an editor. Editing samples, references, etc. are a great way to vet them. Too many people who have later worked with me were either burned by other editors or forced into a cookie cutter package that didn’t fit their needs. Knowing what you need is the first step, but doing your homework should not be disregarded, either.

    Thanks for the good read!

  6. Your post did a lot to clear up my understanding of editing jobs. But now I’m just wondering, for those who want to invest in all three types of editing AND beta readers, where do the latter fit in? My thanks in advance!

  7. […] Debbie Simorte: I love this question and I always have this discussion with potential clients. Most think they are ready for proofreading and few are. I read the entire book before starting any edits, so I won’t get distracted by the story and forget I’m working and so I can see how much help the author needs. If the author needs developmental edits or isn’t even ready for that yet, I then let them know, because copyediting won’t help them at that stage. BookBaby has a good article that explains the different types of editing here: https://blog.bookbaby.com/2016/04/type-book-editing-need/ […]

  8. Hi Wendy — you’re right, and we’ve now included it in the post. I believe line editing is what you’re looking for.

    • I have written a fictional book and edited it myself several times. I believe my biggest concern is with redundancy. I have used several proofing programs and do not find many other mistakes. I have read it so much I can quote it. Ha, ha. That is another problem. What editing do you suggest.

  9. I have a question

    If I have a book consisting of about 100,000 words some are spelled incorrectly, will I be charged per word or will I be charged for every line read, or will I be charged for both? Also will I be charged for sentence structure errors? Or will I be charged for every sentence written and because the entire book has to be read, charged for both? Also because punctuation is part of sentence structure, will I be charged separately for sentence structure and punctuation? Or is one included with the other? This book is complete. Does this complicate the matter, or make it easier? Thanks for your attention to my questions.

  10. I have yet to see a discussion (including this one) that talks about how much editing can be done via computer programs. My experience is that (a) almost all proofreading can be done via a compare documents feature (assuming both the text and the final proof are in electronic form); (b) most, if not “almost all” copy editing can be done (may require multiple passes with different programs); and (c) very little line editing or developmental editing can yet be done via computer.
    The trick is to run the programs both before and after developmental and line editing. Before, because typos and grammatical errors will otherwise distract the editor; after, in order to make sure responding to developmental and line edits does not introduce new copy edit errors.
    What I would love to read is a discussion of this subject by professional editors and publishers.

  11. […] There are multiple types of editors, not all editors are created equal, some editors specialize in certain types of books while others do now, different editors charge different rates, and I can’t tell you how many different types of edits your book needs. This page has a good explanation of the different types of editors and what they do. […]

  12. All of the editing types you listed here are very important when it comes to writing. If it was me, I would pay more attention to line editing. That way, I can make sure that the book would flow well.

  13. I have never seen anything referring to ‘short-story collection’ re editing—-I have 17 stories, and working on others, and would like advice on this series and also editing, I need some direction on what is good for a collection, How long should stories be and how many stories make a collection.Would it be possible to commute with someone on this matter. I have published two stories, and received over thousands responses on Facebook, so I know I can write and get positive response. Subject is about living; in a family of ten children, a preacher father and farming in the South in the 1940s, 1950s, Other words a coming of age from an isolated ‘farm-life’ to a ‘city-life’ . Thanks for any response.

    • Sounds great Peggy. I am writing my memoires for family and friends and some who asked for it Before I pass. Mom wrote some pages when she was young but I want more so my children and grandchildren know family facts. This also in the late 40’s. 50’s and on ward. This also involves farm life and now the city, Detroit. Mom was a widow at 33 and had three little girls to raise. Her struggles for survival are miraculous. She was raised during the depression in Michigan and worked her way to support us. I wonder what needs to be edited. I have gone thru this manuscript about 50 times and have rearranged things until I am blue in the face. Not easy. But, I do not think i need a ghost writer changing pertinent things. It is a kleenex type book. I am looking forward to reading yours. I love non fiction work. Best of Luck. MRW

  14. There is another level of edit between development and line editing.

    NASA and some professional editors orginizations have identified even more levels although most of those would not be of concern to a book baby author and their book.

  15. I am closing in on an approx. 250 page autobiography that would include perhuaps 12 pages of pictress. Everything would be black and white with a four color hard cover. It would hopefully be copy ready.

    Could you give me estimates for production of 100 – 200 – 500 copies and approximate production time span?

  16. Once a writer’s book is published and copies sent to the author, explain the process of the author making additional minor changes.

  17. Soy autor del EBook en Español que se vende por Kindle Amazon, titulado “No Gaste $$$$ En Publicidad”. Mi idea: Deseo saber si BookBaby pueden editarlo e imprimirlo para libro. Ignoro si está clara y correcta mi pregunta. Si me contestan consideraré el tema para ambos como un negocio. Tengo otro libro en borrador para una segunda etapa.Mis temaas no son ficción, por ahora, todos basados en Publicidad, desde su definición: Es Diseminación de Información de Ideas, Servicios y Producto Que Mueven a la Acción en Favor del Anunciante., 1932, Ad

  18. Hello I am writing my first book. It’s about me and my humble beginnings to becoming a dr. I know many books have been written about believing in yourself and excelling but I am trying to decide if it’s best to write 1 book or a series of books

  19. sometimes we pay without any purpose because we don’t have an idea that which type of editing we should do, and we go with proofreading etc. According to that editor charges which means costly. Your blog is helpful to know and it will also dave money.


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