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Types of Editing for Books

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.


"I want you to edit my book," says an anxious new author. To that I need to ask, "What do you mean by editing?"

There are different types of editing for books, each one addressing a different stage or aspect of the book writing and production process.

What Is Developmental Editing?

Questions it answers: Is this manuscript ready to be published? If not, what will the author need to do to make it ready for publication?

Developmental editing is often the first round of review for books. While it can be done after a full first draft of a manuscript is complete, it may also be done at various points while the author is still writing the book, maybe even chapter by chapter.

The main benefit of developmental editing is that it can keep authors on track and on purpose with their book writing. Some developmental editors may also serve as "writing coach" for their author clients, not only evaluating their writing, but motivating them as well.

Development editors can either be freelance or may be hired by a traditional publishing house.

What Is Line Editing?

Question it answers: Does this written work convey the right message in the right way for the audience?

Line editing deals with the content of a book. It deals with the work's message or story and how well it is conveyed. This review also evaluates the writer's voice and stylistic elements.

Line editing is usually done after any developmental editing and when a first full manuscript draft is complete. It may be repeated multiple times as changes are made to the manuscript.

Line editors may be freelancers or may be hired by traditional publishing houses.

What Is Copy Editing?

Question it answers: Does this written work use accepted language standards?

I typically define copy editing as proofreading. It evaluates the writing mechanics of a work for spelling, punctuation, grammar, sentence structure, word use, etc. It measures whether the work meets accepted language standards.

Other additional (and usually paid for!) copy editing tasks could include fact checking, source citations and attributions, and image checking. Inquire as to what services your copy editor will include or provide for a fee.

Though it could be done at an earlier phase if there are serious issues with language use, copy editing is often done later in the process, closer to when the manuscript is being prepared for production. It is possible to have a perfectly copy edited manuscript that would fail a line editing round.

Copy editors and proofreaders may serve on a freelance basis or may be hired by traditional publishing houses.

Copy editing is a must-do! It will help catch those minor errors that can degrade a book for its readers. Multiple rounds are suggested... using multiple editors is even better.

What Is Self Editing?

Question it answers: Is this the best possible manuscript quality that can be achieved for the least possible cost?

Don't have the budget or guts to put your manuscript through professional editing? Not an uncommon scenario. You could ask your family and friends to edit, but that strategy has its own costs and challenges.

Though not an ideal solution, there are ways to help improve the quality of your manuscript, even if you do it yourself. Self editing strategies could include putting the manuscript away for a while (preferably days or even weeks) in order to look at it with fresh eyes, looking at it in a different format, using tools and software with review functions (Microsoft Word, online tools, etc.), and reading it aloud.

What Makes a Good Book Editor?

What qualities should you look for in an editor?

Understanding of the various editing functions. Ask candidates what type of editing they do. Developmental, line or copy/proofreading... or all three? If they don't understand the question, keep looking.

Experience. Experience with the type of editing you are requesting is a given. But also consider the editor's experience with the genre and subject of your book. This will help him or her evaluate whether your book will be appropriate for your intended audience. For developmental or line editing, this is an important qualification.

Localization. Ever see an email or other document from a foreign land that is in your language, but it is so awkwardly written that it barely conveys the intended message? Ideally, you want editors who are native speakers of the language of your book. At minimum, they should have strong, near-native level, bilingual fluency. (As a side note, some editors specialize in localization, meaning that they can take written work by non-native speakers and edit it so that it meets local standards for syntax, word use and other language conventions used by the intended audience.)

Objectivity. When self editing or hiring friends and family for editing functions, objectivity is just about impossible. Hiring an editor who has no personal or financial investment in you or your work is preferred. You will get valuable outside opinion with less drama.

Perfection? Of course you want your book manuscript to be as error-free as possible. But editing is still an activity done by fallible humans. There still may be stray errors even after multiple editing rounds. (I'll bet you've seen errors in books from even the biggest publishing houses. I have.) After you receive your edited manuscript, you should also review it yourself and make any changes necessary. Especially if you are self publishing, remember you are completely responsible for the final published product.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2017 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 24, 2017:

Hi Kitty! A lot of writers aren't aware of various editing functions and nuances. So you're not alone! Self editing can be done if you approach it consciously, give yourself time and can take an outsider's view. Totally understand about not asking friends and family. Worst possible scenario in many cases. ;) Thanks so much for stopping by and joining the conversation! Have a beautiful day!

Kitty Fields from Summerland on January 24, 2017:

You know, I didn't even know there were types of editing. I do all my own editing, which some say is dangerous or incorrect, but to be honest, I don't want to pay someone to do it and have them charge me an arm and a leg, and I don't want to ask family/friends to do it because they take FOREVER. LOL. Great hub!

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Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 16, 2017:

Happy Monday, Flourish! As someone who edits as part of my job, you can imagine how cringe-inducing it is for me. :) Editing is so needed, but so misunderstood. Thanks for chiming in and have a beautiful week ahead!

FlourishAnyway from USA on January 15, 2017:

What a useful distinction. I cringe sometimes when I hear a poor writer asking for proofreading when what they really need is something far more intensive.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 15, 2017:

Hi and Happy New Year, Kristen! Glad you found it helpful. Hope your new year is going well. Thanks for stopping by and have a wonderful day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 15, 2017:

Hi Oscarlites! Thanks for the kind words. Thanks so much for visiting and have a wonderful day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 15, 2017:

Hi Billybuc! I hope it will clear the issue for many writers. Thanks so much for sharing and stopping by! Happy Sunday to you, too!

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on January 15, 2017:

Great hub! Very resourceful with excellent tips on the editing aspect.

Oscar Jones from Monroeville, Alabama on January 15, 2017:

good resource and well written!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 15, 2017:

This should be required reading for all writers. Excellent information here...sharing on Twitter.....Happy Sunday to you!

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