Types of Editing |Developmental | Copy Editing | Proofreading
When it comes to the different types of editing, I like to keep it simple. I squish them all into three main categories:
- Developmental Editing
- Copy Editing
The issue is that definitions vary depending on the editor you’re working with and each main category has several subcategories that narrow in and make things more specific. Finding what you need, especially as a new self-publisher, can be daunting!
Author tip: most authors only need a copy edit. It provides a great mix of everything you would likely need.
Let’s start with developmental editing. This type of editing can be before a project starts or after it’s complete. It entails either helping an author organize the book to write or helping the author find holes in plots or poor character development. Some forms of developmental editing are called book shepherding where the developmental editor is a kind of book coach that the author runs things past or it can even involve full-on rewriting. In some cases, it can involve search engine optimization (SEO) and even market research.
Developmental editing can also be called substantive editing or content editing. It’s basically all the same. It’s the big picture type of editing that involves a lot of feedback between author and editor. It’s about finding what works and what doesn’t and can involve directly correcting it (writing) or just pointing it out (notes).
A general developmental edit will provide two reports. The first one would be a critique of the manuscript also called an editorial report, and a marked-up manuscript with side notes also called an annotated manuscript.
A light version of a developmental edit is called an editorial assessment and is typically part of working with a publisher. It’s for a 1stdraft type of manuscript or even an outline draft. The purpose is to ensure a strong story is being laid out to lay the foundation for the rest of the book.
A structural edit also falls under the developmental edit umbrella. It’s a focus on the story’s flow. Does it keep the reader engaged? A regular developmental edit would cover what a structural edit would, however, if your book has a lot of flashbacks or twists and turns, getting this specific type of edit would be beneficial.
A copy edit is the catch-all and most common type of book editing. A copy edit has several subcategory names like mechanical editing and line editing. The goal of a copy editor is to improve the manuscript. A copy edit typically covers:
- Word and language usage
A line edit is a focus on flow and prose. A good copy editor would include the elements of a line edit.
A good copy editor would also point out developmental issues as side notes. While not as intense as a structural edit or line edit, a copy edit is a jack-of-all-trades and by far the most common type of editing needed by authors.
Most authors new to the world of editing think of proofreading as another name for copy editing or editing in general. While proofreading does involve light grammar and punctuation checks, it’s more of a final read-through that looks at layout. They look at headers, chapter titles, page numbers, margins and indents. They make sure the book looks great and doesn’t have any overlooked elements.
Back in the day before something went to print it would be cast in metal and a proofreader would double check everything before doing so since deleting something cast in metal wasn’t possible.
In today's market, a proofreader is a light edit just focusing on grammar and punctuation. It can also go under the term of formatting. A formatter will check headers, margins and indents to ensure everything is set to the final format standard, like print or eBook.
Typically, a formatter wouldn’t do a grammar check, but many formatters offer a combination service that will run the document through a program like Grammarly.
Honorable Mention Types of Editing
A lot less common types of editing that usually get lumped in with a special request to a copy editor are things like:
- Fact checking
- Indexing (characters, topics, lists)
- Style guides
Typically for nonfiction, these types of edits are normally done by formatters or copy editors as special requests. The style guide most common among books is the Chicago Manual of Style, however, requests for APA or other style guides are common for specialty documents and books.
How to Find an Editor
Now that you figured out what type of editing you want, let’s get down to how to find and pick an editor. The number one thing new authors make a mistake with is passing up a free sample edit. Take a few pages from your book and give it to a handful of editors. Have them all work their magic and compare the samples to pick the best one. The other variable is the price. If you have two or three editors that produce the same results, pick based on price.
The process of self-publishing is daunting. When you hear the editor is going to take a month to get your manuscript back, don’t stress and don’t pressure them. Often editors work project to project and while they edit, they work to make a queue of projects so that they don’t run out of work. The wait time may include that queue time. If you pressure an editor, they may agree to a shorter time frame, but in doing so, they move you ahead of someone else and rush your project. You don’t want an editor to rush. You want them to take their sweet time and be in a good mindset to handle your project with care. Quality over speed.