Types of editing and how to decide which editing type is best for your book

Book editing is an essential step in the publishing process, ensuring that a manuscript is polished and ready for publication. There are several different types of book editing, each serving a different purpose and addressing different aspects of the manuscript. In this article, we will take a closer look at the different types of book editing, including developmental editing, copyediting, and proofreading. We will explore what each type of editing entails, the specific skills and knowledge required, and the role that editors play in the publishing process. Whether you're a writer looking to submit your manuscript for publication or a publisher seeking to improve the quality of your books, understanding the different types of book editing is crucial.

In addition to the three types of editing mentioned above (developmental, copyediting, and proofreading), there are also specialized types of editing such as substantive editing, line editing, and stylistic editing. Each of these types of editing serves a specific purpose, and they are typically done in a particular order. Developmental editing, for example, is typically done first to address the overall structure and content of the manuscript. Copyediting, on the other hand, focuses on grammar, punctuation, and syntax, and is done after the manuscript has been developed. Proofreading, the final step of the editing process, is done to catch any remaining errors before publication.

It's worth noting that some editors may specialize in a particular type of editing, while others may offer a range of services. It's also important to keep in mind that an editor's job is not just to fix errors, but also to improve the overall quality of the manuscript, make suggestions for improvements, and help authors to shape their manuscript into the best possible book it can be.

Ultimately, the goal of book editing is to take a manuscript and turn it into a polished and professional book that is ready for publication. Understanding the different types of book editing and the role that each plays in the publishing process is essential for writers, publishers, and anyone else involved in the publishing industry. This article will provide a more detailed look at each of these editing types, how they are used, and the benefits of each, so that you can understand how to choose the right type of editing service for your book and make the most of your manuscript.

The Editorial Process

The best way to understand the editing process is to begin with traditional book publishing.

When a publisher is preparing a book for publication the manuscript will undergo three key editorial stages:

  • Developmental editing.
  • Copy editing.
  • Proofreading.
types of edits

The first editing type is developmental editing. This is the process in which the developmental editor will address the wider issues within your book. The focus will be on correcting the story, structure, and flow.

The second editing type is copy editing. This comes once the manuscript has undergone a developmental edit and the writer has made changes. The copy edit focuses on correcting spelling mistakes and other sentence-level issues.

Line editing is a type of copy editing, where the book editor will look to correct sentence-level problems.

It is worth noting that some professional book editing services will provide combined developmental editing and line editing. BubbleCow's professional editing is a good example.

The third editing type is proofreading . This occurs once the book has been prepared for publication and laid out ready for print. The goal of the proofread is to ensure that no new mistakes have been added when 'typesetting' (this is the name given to the process of creating the files needed for either printing or digital publication).

Only once a book has undergone each of these three editing types will it be ready for publication.

Let's take a look at each of the three editing types in more detail.

What is Developmental Editing?

Developmental editing is the first step in the editorial process. The goal of editing is to address a book's wider issues focussing on plot, flow, and structure. This process is sometimes called structural editing, substantive editing or content editing, it's all the same thing.

A developmental editor will look at a manuscript and provide both line-level tracked changes and a detailed report outlining the issues that they have found in a book. They will focus on a wider range of potential issues ranging from plot development, all the way up to fact-checking.

At BubbleCow, we approach editing through the use of questions:

It is important to understand that this type of editing is not checking for spelling mistakes and typos. That's why its sometimes called structural editing. The focus is on wider issues. An editor might make changes to obvious typos, but this is not their job. A manuscript that has undergone a developmental edit will still contain line-level errors.

This said, at BubbleCow, we do provide a unique service that combines editing and line editing.

Developmental editing should be the first of the types of editing you apply to your book. Once the edit has been completed, the writer will be asked to make several changes to the manuscript. Once these changes have been made, an additional developmental edit may be required.

A traditionally published book will often undergo two or three developmental edits before it is considered ready for publishing.

You mustn't get confused by terminology when considering this type of editing for your book. Developmental editing is also known by several other terms including, content editing, structural editing, stylistic editing, and substantive editing. These are all the same thing.

What is Copy Editing?

Copy editing is the second step in the editorial process. The goal of the copy editor is to remove all of the line-level errors from the manuscript; in other words, fix the typos and grammar issues. One additional critical role of the copy editor's job is to add consistency to a manuscript.

A copy edit is normally carried out using tracked changes and comments. The copy editor will read the manuscript and make changes and corrections. The writer will then go through these suggestions accepting and rejecting them as they see fit.

There are two important choices to be made before the copy editing can start: which language and which style manual.

Books written in English will be published in either British English or American English. One of the first jobs of the copy editor will be to discuss with the writer which type of English they wish to use for their book. A good copy editor will be able to switch from British English to American English and vice versa.

The second important decision to be made is regarding style manuals. These are manuals that layout rules for how sentences should be written, formatted, and laid out. For example, a style manual will decide if numbers should be written as digits (10) or words (ten).

There are several different style manuals, and each has slightly different approaches to how sentences should be formatted.

If writing in American English, the two main style manuals are AP and the Chicago Manual of Style. The copy editor will have a preference, but this will be discussed before the copy edit begins. In most cases, the writer has no preference and the copy editor will use either the manual with which they are most comfortable or the one which their company has suggested is best used.

If writing in British English, then it is slightly more complex. There is no widely accepted British equivalent to AP or the Chicago Manual of Style. However, most copy editors will use Oxford Guide to Style, formerly known as Hart's Rules, (the University of Oxford website also provides an online style document, but it's nowhere near as comprehensive as the book.)

There is one more thing to consider with style guides and this is the use of house style guides. Most traditional publishers (and some copy editors) will have their house-style guide, which provides additional directions. These are in addition to the normal style manuals and either help provide consistency across a range of publications or help to give a 'ruling' on certain technical issues that are not addressed in the style manual.

Copy editing is a skilled and time-consuming job. However, developmental editing and copy editing require different skill sets and will be carried out by different types of professionals. It is rare to find an editor that is equally skilled in both types of editing. Though there is no direct qualification for developmental editors (though most will have post-graduate level education), this is not the same for copy editors. All countries have recognized qualifications for copy editors.

It is also worth noting that a traditionally published book will undergo several rounds of copy editing before it is published. A publisher will often carry out three or four internal copy edits before it is finally sent to either their internal copy editing team or a freelancer editor.

One thing worth understanding is that it's impossible to remove all errors from a manuscript and even the most thoroughly edited manuscript will still contain a small number of errors. This is even more true for manuscripts that have undergone just a single round of copy edits. However, even with a single copy edit at least 95% of the errors should be removed.

What is Proofreading?

Proofreading is the final step in the editorial process. Once a manuscript has undergone developmental editing and copy editing, it will be considered ready for publication. At this point, the book will be prepared for printing. The goal of a proofread is to remove any errors that have been introduced whilst preparing the book for publication.

In traditional publishing, the writing, developmental editing, and copy editing stages are normally carried out using a Word document. However, for the book to be printed, a print-ready PDF needs to be created and Word is unable to carry out this conversion. This means that the text must be moved from the Word document and converted into a different format. This is usually carried out using InDesign software, though Affinity Publisher is becoming more popular. This layout process is complex, and it is easy to introduce new errors. For example, an image that has been added might overlap some text and hide it from view.

The job of the proofreader is to ensure that no errors have slipped through. Even today, this is often done on printed pages with the proofreader adding marks to indicate where errors have occurred. It is both a skilled and time-consuming job.

Developments in technology have meant that there is now an additional job for the proofreader. Books that are to be read on digital devices, such as the Kindle, need to be converted into either ePub or mobi formats . As with converting to print-ready PDFs, this is a process that has huge potential to add new errors. A proofreader will examine the converted files to ensure that no errors have slipped through during the process.

One word of warning. Writers often confuse copy editing and proofreading. These two terms cannot be used interchangeably. The copy editor and a proofreader are two different types of editors with different skill sets.

Other Types of Editing

In addition to the main types of editing, three other types of editing should be considered (remember developmental, content, substantive and structural editing as all the same thing.)

The editorial assessment is relatively new in the publishing world and are something that have grown to meet the needs of self-published writers on a limited budget. The editorial assessment, sometimes called manuscript assessment, tends to be brief assessment of a book's potential, structure and plot. It tries to highlight the key problems.

You can find out more about the role of an editorial assessment in this article.

Indexing can also be considered a type of editing. An indexer is someone that will create an index for the end of your book.

Fact-checking is something that may be needed for certain types of books. A developmental editor should be checking facts as part of their service, but on occasion more detailed, or expert, opinion is required. For example, for a history book or a major work of historical fiction, a specialist fact checker may be employed to ensure that no errors have slipped through.

It is worth mentioning the role of an acquisitions editor, sometimes called a commissioning editor. These editors work at publishing houses. Their role is to find new books and strike a deal with the agent and writer. Though these editors are not officially developmental editors, they will often provide feedback on a book as the first step in the editorial process. This is normally structural feedback with a light line edit.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are some frequently asked questions that will provide you more information.

What is the difference between developmental editing and copyediting?

Developmental editing focuses on the overall structure, content and organization of the manuscript, while copyediting addresses grammar, punctuation, and syntax.

When should proofreading be done in the editing process?

Proofreading is typically the final step of the editing process, done before the book is published, to catch any remaining errors.

Is line editing the same as stylistic editing?

No, they are different, line editing focuses on the wording, sentence structure, and consistency, while stylistic editing addresses the writing style and tone of the manuscript.

Can one editor do all types of book editing?

It is possible, but it is more common for editors to specialize in one or two types of editing, and for different editors to handle different stages of the editing process.

Is it important to hire different editors for different types of editing?

Hiring different editors for different types of editing can be beneficial because different editors will have different expertise and can bring a fresh perspective to the manuscript. However, it's not always necessary or feasible to hire multiple editors, it depends on your budget, time and the need.


  • "The Chicago Manual of Style" This book is a widely-used guide for manuscript preparation and style for publications, particularly books in the Humanities, it covers everything from grammar and punctuation, to manuscript structure, editing, and proofreading.
  • "The Copyeditor's Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications" by Amy Einsohn This book provides a comprehensive guide for copyediting, it covers grammar, punctuation, and usage, it also includes instruction on how to work with manuscript and how to communicate effectively with authors and other editors.
  • "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print" by Renni Browne and Dave King This book provides practical, easy-to-follow guidance on the essential elements of the editing process, it is aimed at fiction writers, but it can be applied to non-fiction writing as well. It covers everything from characterization to dialogue, pacing, and point of view.

Further Reading

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