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The Different Types Of Editing (And How To Tell Them Apart)

Is anyone else confused about what kind of editor to hire? We sure are. When you write a book you don't necessarily think about what comes next, but if you intend to be published it's inevitable that somewhere down the line you'll want to hire an editor (or in some cases editors).

Editors are the people who are there to catch your mistakes, but did you know there are actually five different types? We didn't either!

Our search to find out what the different types of editors are, what they do, how much they can cost, and the differences between them led to some interesting answers. We wanted to share them with you today to help you stay informed and to help guide you through your own search to find an editor that best suits your book's needs.

The 5 Different Types Of Editing:

1. Developmental

2. Evaluation

3. Content Editing

4. Line Editing

5. Copyediting

How They Work Together:

An excellent example of how all the different types of editing fit together is the house analogy. Think of each type as playing a role in building a house.

Developmental/Evaluation- Build the house, figure out which rooms go where.

Content- Arrange the furniture

Line/Copy- Add the Paint/Decorations

Proofreading- The final walk-through before the house is sold

Makes sense right?

The Break-Down:

1. Developmental Editing focuses on the organization and structure of your book. It ensures that your details line up, that everything is in the right place, and that the overall flow of the story works. It does NOT look for word choice, punctuation, or grammar.

Developmental Editors answer questions such as:

  • Are you leaving out any key details?

  • Is there unnecessary material that needs to be cut?

  • Are there issues with the flow of this chapter?

  • Are there any weak points or places where the story could be stronger?

  • Does the order of events make sense or can something be switched?

Their ultimate goal is to fix what's not working and elevate what is. They do NOT do any writing or rewriting. They do make suggestions on how to organize your ideas, structure content, and how to make your transitions smoother.

The best benefit of this type of editor is that they read your book the way a reader would. They can give you insight that no other type of editing is going to give you, and they typically work with both finished and unfinished drafts. This is the person who is going to contribute the most to the actual creative process of story writing.


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2. Evaluation Editing focuses on the structure, flow, completeness, and overall quality of your manuscript. It is also referred to as a Manuscript Critique or Structural Edit.

Typically Evaluation Editors will look at your completed draft and then provide a short summary of the areas of concern and their suggestions. The purpose of this type of edit is to give you a high level structural review focused on the bigger picture issues.

It can be a good choice to hire this type of editor if:

  • You aren't sure what your manuscript needs

  • If you're unsure of what the bigger picture issues are

  • You want feedback but aren't sure how to fix your manuscript

This is essentially the safeguard that will tell you what other types of editing are necessary for your book. It will keep you from overpaying for edits you may not need or from trying to publish your book before it's ready.

There is overlap between evaluation and developmental editing in that they both look at structure and flow. The main differences are that you need a finished manuscript in order to get an evaluation edit done, and that developmental editing is much more in-depth when it comes to bigger picture issues. The evaluation editing is exactly that. It identifies potential problems but doesn't tell you how to solve them.

3. Content Editing, also known as Substantive Editing or Full Editing, looks at the smaller details and focuses mainly on the words on the page working by paragraph, then by chapter. It scans for completeness, flow, and construction of ideas/stories.

If you hire a Content Editor, they should respond with a paragraph by paragraph mark-up of corrections that point out incomplete sections, advice for smoothing out the flow of words, how to construct your chapters, sections, and subsections. They will NOT move chapters around, but they will move sections or paragraphs within your chapters, move content from other chapters, or delete content entirely as they see fit.

The key focus should be the tone and voice of your manuscript. Your editor should also be aware of who your target audience is to ensure that the tone is a good fit and that the writing sounds like "your" voice.

The biggest distinction between a content edit and a line edit is that a content edit is not as detailed. Content edits fall between developmental/evaluation edits and line edits.

4. Line Editing is exactly what it sounds like. Also referred to as a Stylistic or Comprehensive Edit, a line edit is a line-by-line review of your manuscript. This is the most detailed edit you can get and the purpose is to polish your prose.

Keep in mind that this is like putting hot wax on your newly painted car. You want everything in place within your manuscript and correct before you get to this stage in your edits. Otherwise you'll be paying to perfect something that isn't ready, which ergo is a waste of time and money because you'll likely tear it apart again at some point.

This type of editing is not focused on the big picture, but rather on word choice and whether each line has the intended impact. A Line Editor will survey your books flow, but on the micro-scale. They evaluate how each sentence interacts with the others and how smoothly they fit together. They will point out run-on sentences, sentence fragments, and cliches, help clarify a sentence's meaning, eliminate jargon, and ensure that each sentence sounds right in the reader's mind. Another benefit of this type is that it tightens paragraphs and eliminates wordiness, something we all suffer from.

Something to keep in mind is that your Line Editor is not there to fix errors. They are only tasked with minding the words you use to communicate with your readers. They are working to make your writing short, simple and concise, and above all, for the reader.

If you're looking for an all-in-one line and copy edit, make sure you confirm with your chosen Line Editor that they do both. Otherwise you may be disappointed with what you paid for.

5. Copy Editing serves the purpose of finding grammatical, punctuation, and spelling mistakes. It requires a complete manuscript and usually provides a complete mark-up of the entire draft. This is where the legendary "red ink" comes into play. In addition, they are also checking that your style choices fit the style guide that is appropriate for your genre.

The most well-known type of editing, Copy Editors bring a lot to the editing table. They search and correct grammatical errors that are lesser known, that even native English speakers may not know exist. Studies have shown that average people only catch about 60% of their mistakes when writing. Professionals catch about 85%, which is still not that great. That's why copy edits and proofreading are invaluable.

Copy Editing is what makes the difference between an amateur novel and a professional one. They take a fully printed version of your novel and act as a final review before it goes to print. It is the last line of defense before it gets published.

A good thing to keep in mind is that your book should always be copy edited before it goes to layout, and that it should always be professionally formatted before it goes to be proofread. Proofreading can be done by a Copy Editor, but it is NOT a full copy edit.

Proofreading looks for typos and misplaced punctuation, but also searches for layout discrepancies such as page numbering, heading consistency, placement of any tables or figures in the text, bad line or page breaks, etc. They aren't looking to correct content, only mistakes. Think of it as the back-up to the copy edit. It's job is to catch any errors that scan might have missed and act as your last line of defense before you publish.

What Are The Costs?

The BIG question. The one every writer cringes at.

There's no exact answer, more like there's an estimate. We say this because each editor determines their own rates depending on word count, flexibility, length of work, type of manuscript, the skill level of the writer, the deadline, and the type of editing asked for.

They will typically ask for a sample of your work before they agree to take on a project so that they can come up with an estimate of how much it might cost to work with them. These consultations are free and they can give you a good idea across the board how much you may be looking at when it comes to editing costs.

To give you a better idea, we looked at the Editorial Freelancers Association rates page. This is where most freelancers go to figure out what they should charge for their work.

According to their website, this is the expected range for fiction and nonfiction options per each type of editing:

No matter what type of editing you choose, know that each type will come with different features and benefits. Costs will also vary. But with some research and understanding what your book requires you're sure to pick the editing services right for you!

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