Learning about the different types of editing, and trying to decide which editing type is best for you and your book can be confusing.
In this article, you will discover the different types of editing, learn which editing type is best for you and also understand what type of editor will provide the most value to your latest book.

The Editorial Process

The best way to understand the editorial 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:
  1. Developmental editing.
  2. Copyediting.
  3. Proofreading.
The first editing type is developmental editing. This is the process in which the editor will address the wider issues within the book. The focus will be on correcting the story, structure, and flow.
The second editing type is copyediting. This comes once the manuscript has undergone a developmental edit and the writer has made changes. This process focusses on correcting spelling mistakes and other sentence-level issues.
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.

Editing Type 1: Developmental Editing

Developmental editing is the first step in the editorial process. The goal of developmental editing is to address a book’s wider issues focussing on plot, flow, and structure.
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 developmental editing through the use of questions:

  • Does the structure of the book make sense?
  • Is the presentation logical?
  • Is there a wider story arc that engages the reader and pulls them through the narrative?
  • Has a coherent viewpoint been applied? Is it consistent? Does it make sense for the story
  • Does the chapter structure make sense? Does the writer understand scene structure?
  • Have narrative techniques been correctly applied?
  • Does each scene contain sufficient description?
  • Is each new character sufficiently described?
  • Is the tense consistent?
  • Is the characterization believable and consistent?
  • Are the characters sufficiently developed?
  • Are there any obvious plot holes?
  • If the novel is set in the past, are there any inconsistencies in the use of objects etc.?
  • Does the book's voice, style and format match the genre expectations?
  • Is the writer telling, when they should be showing?
  • Are the facts accurate?
  • Does the book's word count meet the genre expectations? If it is too short, how can it be extended? If too long, what approach should be taken?
  • Has the writer correctly formatted paragraphs? Will shorter or longer paragraphs better suit the style or genre of the book?
  • If a prologue is used, does it match the genre and make sense to the wider narrative?
  • Does the book need an introduction?
  • Does the book need additional end material, such as bibliography or epilogue?
  • Should the writer include information about themselves?
  • If relevant, is the book correctly referenced?
  • If images, tables and diagrams have been used, has the copyright been correctly attributed?
  • If included, are all footnotes or endnotes correctly presented and formatted?
It is important to understand that developmental editing is not checking for spelling mistakes and typos. 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.
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, and substantive editing. These are all the same thing.

Editing Type: Copyediting

Copyediting is the second step in the editorial process. The goal of copyediting 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 copyeditor’s job is to add consistency to a manuscript.
A copyedit is normally carried out using tracked changes and comments. The copyeditor 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 copyediting 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 copyeditor will be to discuss with the writer which type of English they wish to use for their book. A good copyeditor 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 copyeditor will have a preference, but this will be discussed before the copyedit begins. In most cases, the writer has no preference and the copyeditor 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 copyeditors will use Oxford Guide to Style, formerly known as Hart's Rules, (the University of Oxford website also provides an on-line style document, but it's nowhere near as comprehensive as the book.)

Other UK style guides include:

There is one more thing to consider with style guides and this is the use of house style guides. Most traditional publishers (and some copyeditors) 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.
Copyediting is a skilled and time-consuming job. However, developmental editing and copyediting 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 copyeditors. All countries have recognized qualifications for copyeditors.
It is also worth noting that a traditionally published book will undergo several rounds of copyediting before it is published. A publisher will often carry out three or four internal copyedits before it is finally sent to either their internal copyediting team or a freelancer.
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 copyedits. However, even with a single copyedit at least 95% of the errors should be removed.

Editing Type: Proofreading

Proofreading is the final step in the editorial process. Once a manuscript has undergone developmental editing and copyediting, 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 copyediting 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 equal 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 copyediting and proofreading. These two terms cannot be used interchangeably. The copy editor and a proofreader are two different types of editor with different skill sets.

Other Types of Editing

In addition to the main types of editing, three other types of editing should be considered.
Editorial assessments our relatively new in the publishing world and are something that have grown to meet the needs of self-published writers on a limited budget. These tend to be brief assessments of a book’s potential and try to highlight the key problems. These types of edits tend to be less expensive than any other type of editing, but, in all honesty, have limited value. Editorial assessments tend to lack any real depth and often leave the reader with no clear guidance as to what needs to be changed and how it needs to be altered. Editorial assessments should be used with caution.
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.