The 6 Types of Book Editing You Need To Know

Is anyone else confused about what kind of book editor to hire? I know I was when I first started thinking about publishing my book.

While you’re writing a novel you don’t necessarily think about what comes next, but regardless of whether you intend to self-publish or plan to query, it’s inevitable that you’ll want to hire an editor, or in most cases editor(s) before you publish. After all, a well-developed and polished novel sells.

Editors are the people who are there to catch your mistakes, but did you know there are six different types of book editing services? Of course, a quick Google search will pull up several different variations on titles editors have given themselves. It’s enough to make any author’s head spin!

How do you tell them apart? Which do you actually need? And which titles are really the same thing but with slight differences depending on who is offering them?

If you’re already confused, don’t worry.

My search to find out what the different types of editors are, what they do, and the differences between them led to some interesting answers.

I wanted to share them with you today to help you stay informed and to help guide you through your own search to find an editor that best suits your book’s needs.

The 6 Different Types of Book Editing:

  1. Developmental
  2. Evaluation
  3. Content
  4. Line Editing
  5. Copyediting
  6. Proofreading


How They Work Together:

An excellent example of how all the different types of editing fit together is the house analogy. Think of each type as playing a role in building a house.

Developmental/Evaluation– Build the house, figure out which rooms go where.
Content– Arrange the furniture.
Line/Copy– Add the Paint/Decorations.
Proofreading– The final walk-through before the house is sold.

Makes sense, right?

The Break-Down:

1 – Developmental Editing focuses on the organization and structure of your book. It ensures that your details line up, that everything is in the right place, and that the overall flow of the story works. It does NOT look for word choice, punctuation, or grammar.

Developmental Editors answer questions such as:

  • Are you leaving out any key details?
  • Is there unnecessary material that needs to be cut?
  • Are there issues with the flow of this chapter?
  • Are there any weak points or places where the story could be stronger?
  • Does the order of events make sense, or can something be switched?
  • Are the arcs of your characters consistent?
  • Do your setting details come through enough?
  • Are there any plot holes?


Their ultimate goal is to fix what’s not working and elevate what is. They make suggestions on how to organize your ideas, structure content, and how to make your transitions smoother.

Typically, this type of edit comes with in-draft comments through Microsoft Word’s track changes. An editor’s letter summarizing the various aspects of the edit and the editor’s feedback should also be included.

The best benefit of this type of editor is that they read your book the way a reader would. They can give insight that no other type of book editing is going to give you, and they typically work with both finished and unfinished drafts. This is the editor who is going to contribute the most to the actual creative process of story writing and is the first type of editing you should seek out.

Did I mention I’m a Developmental Editor?

Hi, my name is Alina Wells, founder of Writing It Wells. I help authors just like YOU strengthen their novels and polish them to perfection. My developmental editing services are designed to suit the needs of every author, and while I prefer to work with writers of romance or fantasy, I’m open to any genre.
To learn more about how I can help YOU – click here!

2 – Evaluation Editing focuses on the structure, flow, completeness, and overall quality of your manuscript. It is also referred to as a Manuscript Critique or Structural Edit.

Evaluation Editors will look at your completed draft and then provide a short summary of the areas of concern and their suggestions. The purpose of this type of edit is to give you a high-level structural review focused on the bigger-picture issues. They will not provide in-draft edits unless specifically stated otherwise.

It can be a good choice to hire this type of editor if:

  • You aren’t sure what your manuscript needs.
  • If you’re unsure of what the bigger picture issues are.
  • You want feedback but aren’t sure how to fix your manuscript.
  • Are on a tighter timeline or a tighter budget.

This is essentially the safeguard that will tell you what other types of book editing are necessary for your book. It will keep you from overpaying for edits you may not need or from trying to publish your book before it’s ready.

There is overlap between evaluation and developmental editing in that they both look at similar story elements and can help strengthen your novel altogether.

The main differences are:

  1. You need a finished manuscript in order to get an evaluation edit done, whereas a book doesn’t necessarily need to be complete to receive a developmental edit.
  2. Developmental Editing is much more in-depth and for that reason more expensive. The evaluation editing is a miniature version that helps identify issues but doesn’t necessarily solve them.

3 – Content Editing, also known as Substantive Editing or Full Editing, looks at the smaller details and focuses mainly on the words on the page working by paragraph, then by chapter. It scans for completeness, flow, and construction of ideas/stories.

If you hire a Content Editor, they should respond with a paragraph-by-paragraph mark-up of corrections that point out incomplete sections, advice for smoothing out the flow of words, how to construct your chapters, sections, and subsections. They won’t move chapters around, but they will move sections or paragraphs within your chapters, move content from other chapters, or delete content entirely as they see fit.

The key focus should be the tone and voice of your manuscript. Your editor should also be aware of who your target audience is to ensure that the tone is a good fit and that the writing sounds like “your” voice.

The biggest distinction between a Content Edit and a Line Edit is that a Content Edit is not as detailed. Content Edits fall between Developmental/Evaluation editing and Line editing in order of which edits you should get when.

4 – Line Editing is exactly what it sounds like. Also referred to as a Stylistic or Comprehensive Edit, a Line Edit is a line-by-line review of your manuscript. This is the most detailed edit you can get, and the purpose is to polish your prose.

Keep in mind that this is like putting hot wax on your newly painted car. You want everything in place within your manuscript and correct before you get to this stage in your edits. Otherwise, you’ll be paying to perfect something that isn’t ready, which ergo is a waste of time and money because you’ll likely tear it apart again at some point.

This type of book editing is not focused on the big picture, but rather on word choice and whether each line has the intended impact. A Line Editor will survey your book’s flow, but on the micro-scale. They evaluate how each sentence interacts with the others and how smoothly they fit together. They will point out run-on sentences, sentence fragments, and cliches, help clarify a sentence’s meaning, eliminate jargon, and ensure that each sentence sounds right in the reader’s mind. Another benefit of this type is that it tightens paragraphs and eliminates wordiness, something we all suffer from.

Something to keep in mind is that your Line Editor is not there to fix errors. They are only tasked with minding the words you use to communicate with your readers. They are working to make your writing short, simple and concise, and above all, for the reader.

If you’re looking for an all-in-one line and copy edit, make sure you confirm with your chosen Line Editor that they do both. Otherwise, you may be disappointed with what you paid for.

5 – Copy Editing serves the purpose of finding grammatical, punctuation, and spelling mistakes. It requires a complete manuscript and usually provides a complete mark-up of the entire draft. This is where the legendary “red ink” comes into play. In addition, copy editors are also checking that your style choices fit the style guide that is appropriate for your genre (in the case of authors, it’s the Chicago Manual of Style).

The most well-known type of editing, Copy Editors bring a lot to the editing table. They search and correct grammatical errors that are lesser known, that even native English speakers may not know exist. Studies have shown that average people only catch about 60% of their mistakes when writing. Professionals catch about 85%, which is much better than the average person. That’s why copy editing and proofreading are invaluable.

Copy Editing is what makes the difference between an amateur novel and a professional one. They take a fully printed version of your novel and act as a final review before it goes to print. It is one of the last lines of defense before publication.

A good thing to keep in mind is that your book should always be copy edited before it goes to layout, and that it should always be professionally formatted before it goes to be proofread.

6 – Proofreading is the final editing stage and the last line of defense prior to publishing. It should only be requested when a manuscript is absolutely finished and there are no plans to change anything. It’s going straight to the printer after the proofread.

Proofreading looks for typos and misplaced punctuation, but also searches for layout discrepancies such as page numbering, heading consistency, placement of any tables or figures in the text, bad line or page breaks, etc. Proofreaders aren’t looking to correct content, only obvious grammatical and sentence structure mistakes that have been missed by all other editors.

It’s a great option for those who many are not able to afford a full Copy Edit, as it can at least help catch some of the more obvious errors in your novel.

Think of it as the back-up to the Copy Edit. Its job is to catch any errors that the first scan might have missed and act as the final catch-all before you publish.

Proofreading can be done (and is typically offered by) Copy Editors, but it is NOT a full copy edit.

How Do You Know Which Edit Is the One You Need?

If you’re still in doubt, reach out and ask! Editors love helping authors. It’s why we do what we do! If you’re unsure whether you’re ready for a specific type of edit, or if you need help figuring out what your book needs in general, reach out to an editor and ask for help.

Chances are they’ll be able to tell you whether your project is a good fit for the work they do, and if not, they have resources and connections to other editors and can point you in the right direction.

Most editors also give free samples of the service they provide. This allows an author to see their editing style, tone, and a taste of what advice they can offer prior to any money being exchanged. All you need to do is ask! This can help you decide whether an editor is a good fit for you and your book or not.

At the end of the day, it’s always better to have your book edited than to skip it. There’s a reason why editors are highly priced and valued within the publishing world- it’s because the work we provide is invaluable. An edited book sells better than a book filled with grammatical errors and plot holes, that’s a fact. As an author, it’s your responsibility to decide how much you can budget for editing and ultimately what kind of editing your book requires.

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Alina (1)

Alina Wells is an author, blogger, and development editor based in the Midwest. When she's not helping writers, writing her debut novel, or building her fantasy author empire, she's reading under trees, cooking yummy things, spending time with her husband, or catering to her miniature pinscher overlord. She loves reading fantasy, young adult, and romance and has never met a pumpkin-spice product she didn't like.

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