Book editing is the process of preparing a book for publication, either traditional or self-published. The book editing process involves developmental editing, copyediting, and proofreading.

Once you've written a book, it is only natural that you'll eventually be told that you need to consider getting your book edited. 
However, this raises the question, 'book editing, what does it mean?'
In this article, you'll discover all about book editing. You'll also find out why book editing matters for your book and why you should consider book editing as an essential step in the writing and publishing process.

Traditional Publishing

The best way to answer the question 'what is book editing?' is to consider the traditional book publishing process.
If you are having your book traditionally published, you will go through several distinct steps. Once you have completed your manuscript and your agent is happy, they will submit this manuscript to the publisher. This will then be placed with a commissioning editor (within the publishing company) to carry out a developmental edit.
Developmental editing is the process in which the plot and the wider structure of the novel are considered in detail. The developmental edits will produce many suggestions for changes, and the reader will be expected to make these changes to the manuscript.
Once the commissioning editor and writer are happy with the manuscript, it is then prepared for publication. The next step is for it to be assessed by a copy editor. The copyeditor's job is to remove all of the typos and small errors whilst applying consistency throughout the manuscript.
Once the manuscript has been copyedited, and everyone is happy, the book is then sent to the typesetter. These are responsible for the conversion of the document into print-ready PDF and digital formats. This will mean the production of several different digital files, all of which are needed to produce the final product.
Once the book has been typeset, it will then undergo a proofread. The proofreader will assess the manuscript and ensure that no other mistakes have been added to the process. These are the final set of eyes that see the manuscript before its publication.
If you are self-publishing a book, you should be looking to mimic this process as closely as possible, since it will ensure the least amount of errors make it through to the final book. However, budget considerations may mean you are unable to carry out each step in full.

Developmental Editing

Developmental editing is the process in which a manuscript is assessed for wider structural issues and plot holes. The developmental editor will read the manuscript and look to make suggestions to lift the story to the next level.
The developmental editor will be looking for several potential problems. The most common of these include:
  • Issues with the plot.
  • Character development.
  • Structural issues.
  • Issues with the narrative and viewpoint.
  • Genre expectations.
These are just a few of the key issues that a developmental editor will assess. Each manuscript is different, and each manuscript will require intelligent and comprehensive assessments from a developmental editor.
The result of developmental editing is a manuscript that contains both tracked changes and embedded comments. There will also be a separate editor's report that will outline the key problems and the suggestions that can be made to resolve these problems.
Developmental editing is a time-consuming process, and the turnaround time is normally measured in weeks and months, not days. However, the final product can transform a good novel into a great novel.


The second step in answering the question 'what is book editing?' is to consider copyediting.
Copyediting is the process of removing typos and mistakes from a manuscript. The copy editor will work at a sentence level, making changes to words and punctuation. They will also be looking to apply consistency throughout the novel. They will ensure that the correct approach is applied to each sentence and paragraph.
Copyeditors work with style manuals. These are manuals that set out the best practice for how a book should be formatted and structured — the most common examples of style manuals are the Chicago Manual of Style and Associated Press. If you are considering a copyeditor, you should discuss which style manual they will use for your novel.
The copyedit will produce a manuscript that contains a large number of sentence-level tracked changes and comments. The writer will then be expected to look at each of these changes in turn and accept or reject them as they see fit.
Once the copyedit has been completed, the manuscript will nearly be ready for publication.


The final step in answering the question of 'what is editing?' is to consider proofreading.
One word of warning. Many first-time writers will mix up copyeditors and proofreaders. These are not the same thing.
A proofreader's role is to ensure that no additional errors have been added to a manuscript when it is converted to either print-ready PDF or digital format. A proofread will typically happen after a copy edit and once the files have been converted.
It is not uncommon for self-published writers to skip the proofreading stage of the process. This is often merely a matter of budget constraints. Proofreading is time-consuming, and therefore, not an inexpensive process. It makes no financial sense for writers working on a small budget for a proofread to be completed on a manuscript that has already been copyedited.
However, if budget constraints allow, a proofread is a vital step in catching those final errors before publication.

Final Thoughts

The answer to the question of 'what is book editing?', is a three-step process. This involves developmental editing, copyediting, and proofreading.
A traditionally published book will go through each of these three stages. In fact, it will often go through the developmental edit and copyediting stages several times to ensure the manuscript is fully ready for publication.
A self-published book will often have tighter budget constraints to a traditionally published book. This means that a self-published book might only have one stage of the editing process applied to it before publication. This is most commonly the copyediting stage, since it will correct the most obvious errors. However, skipping the developmental stage is an error since this produces the largest positive impact on the book's overall quality.

If you want to know more about book editing, you can find out about development editing here or more about deciding which type of editing is best for your book here