5 Types of Editing for Authors


I often get asked about the different forms of editing, so here’s a summary.

First, let’s dispel a myth…

Editing is not spellchecking.

Some phases of editing might include a spellcheck, but professional editing is much bigger than that — a whole variety of tasks that help a book become the best it can possibly be.

And an important reminder…

You should always be the captain of your own manuscript.

You work in partnership with your editor, but the final choices are yours.

This is especially true at any point where you are paying the editor.

(Sometimes, you might need to negotiate with your publisher’s editor regarding particular changes, just depending on the relationship and the terms of your contract.)

How to use these definitions

These (below) are what I call the types of editing, because, well, this is MY blog. 🙂

Put 100 editors in a room and they will discuss and debate terminology with great interest, as we all have subtle differences in how we label and organise our tasks.

Best practice is always to discover what YOUR editor means by any particular term.

For now, just get a sense of the movement through deeper changes to surface corrections, and from early in the writing to near-publication.

1. Developmental editing

Sometimes called a Developmental Review or Developmental Report.

A Developmental Editor helps you discover greater potential in your book and presents possible strategies for achieving that potential.

Timing of developmental editing

  • Sometimes developmental editing is done before the first draft is complete, because the author wants to test the concept and their execution of it before proceeding further.
  • Sometimes it’s done on an early full draft of a book.
  • Sometimes it’s done on a polished draft where the author has been wrestling for a while with aspects that don’t quite work, and they just want to access some professional insight.
  • Some developmental editors also offer coaching sessions where you can bounce your ideas off them at intervals during the creation of your manuscript. (I do this. I also offer mini developmental reviews that look at part of the manuscript and some summaries, which can happen early in the writing, or later.)

Not every book receives developmental editing. This is true for both traditionally-published and self-published books.

Scope of developmental editing

  • Developmental editing is Big Picture editing, looking deeply into the content, structure and themes of the book, but from a high and wide perspective.
  • A developmental edit can be BIG, in terms of the suggestions made and the work that follows. The author may find they have weeks or months of work to do after a thorough developmental edit.
  • It is often the most expensive form of editing.
  • A developmental edit develops the manuscript AND the writer.
  • A developmental edit tends to focus on empowering YOU as the writer to develop your own work.

Developmental editing examples

These are just examples – there are many, many other issues a developmental editor might help you identify and overcome.

The solutions suggested will usually be specifically targeted to the pitfalls and potential they see in your manuscript – not just general writing advice.

Usually, the skills you learn will be transferable to all your future writing as well.


  • Your developmental editor might notice a type of scene that you consistently have difficulty writing – say, fast-moving action scenes. Perhaps they will identify several locations in the manuscript where this applies, and provide observations about what’s could be causing your particular difficulty, and suggestions for how you could deal with it.
  • If your developmental editor alerts you that readers would find it hard to care about your characters, they might diagnose an excessive number of characters as one of the causes. They might suggest solutions covering how you handle names, how quickly you introduce characters, and even suggest characters whose plot role could be combined.


  • Your developmental editor might notice that, say, because you as the “protagonist” of your own story know where you went and what you did, you are not creating a full enough picture on the page for the reader to feel like they are there with you as events unfold. Your editor might provide a set of suggestions for ways you could overcome this, types of details you could add, and tips for how to access your own memories more effectively.


  • Your developmental editor might suggest expanding a section on a particular topic vital to your argument or theme – including specifics of what you could include in the section, or how it might be restructured to enhance the flow.
  • They might suggest ways to reveal more of your own personality (if appropriate to the book’s purpose) to enhance reader engagement.

Delivery of developmental editing

  • Some developmental editors deliver their suggestions in the form of a detailed multi-page report with examples from your manuscript text.
  • Some developmental editors deliver their suggestions in the actual text of your manuscript, using the Track Changes function of Microsoft Word to demonstrate possible changes and add comments in the margins.
  • Some use a combination, or switch methods depending on what best suits the current project or author. (I take this approach.)
  • Some will also include a coaching session (face-to-face or via video conferencing) where you can ask questions about what your editor has suggested. (I often do this, but also keep it optional.)

2. Content editing

Sometimes called Substantive or Structural editing.

A Content Editor helps you enhance the themes or purpose of the book, by suggesting rearrangements to the content, deletion or addition of various elements, or ways to strengthen your expression.

Timing of content editing

  • Usually done on a complete and polished draft of the book, reasonably late in the publication process.

Scope of content editing

  • This edit is also a Big Picture edit, but it looks more closely at the mechanics of how the content is serving the book’s purpose.
  • It can have similar goals in some ways to a developmental edit, but is usually executed closer to publication than a developmental edit would be, and fixes more details along the way.
  • Often the editor executes some of the work they have recommended, or even in some cases a lot of the work, whereas in developmental editing it’s often the author who does most of the work, guided by the editor.
  • The author may have weeks of work to do in response to a content edit.

Content editing examples

Creative narratives – memoir or fiction:

  • A content editor might suggest that some characters/people become more prominent, or that some play a smaller role, to improve focus on the main action and themes.
  • They might notice information that is missing, or anticipation that is created early in the story but never fulfilled. (Some copyeditors pick up on this too.)
  • They might notice that the way you describe a particular setting does not make it easy for the reader to “see” where events are taking place, and suggest solutions for what you could add or modify.
  • They might suggest changing the order of events to enhance the flow of the narrative.


  • Chapter order changes might be suggested to help the author build the case they are presenting in a more logical and effective way.
  • The editor might recommend deletion of phrases or even whole sentences or paragraphs where there is repetition or wordiness blunting the focus.
  • The editor might suggest more effective ways to present information in tables or lists, or new graphics or tables you could include.

Delivery of content editing

  • Many content editors use Microsoft Word’s Track Changes function to show you the suggested changes in the text of your manuscript, and add comments in the margins where you can reply and have a conversation with them.
  • They are especially likely to use Word’s Track Changes if they are doing a copyedit (typos etc) in combination with the content edit (structure etc).
  • Some will supply a separate document with summaries of issues.
  • Some provide both in-text changes/comments/suggestions AND a separate report.
  • Some provide extra notes at the head of your manuscript.

3. Copyediting

Sometimes called Mechanical or Line editing.

(Note: some editors define Line editing as a separate phase between Content editing and Copyediting, or alternatively they call it a “heavy copyedit”. They can explain this on their own blogs. 😉 )

A Copyeditor helps you ensure a high quality of expression and grammatical correctness in your book.

Timing of copyediting

  • This edit usually happens when the manuscript is very polished, and close to publication. It is more about fixing the technicalities than helping you decide the overall direction of your book.

Scope of copyediting

This edit is a detail edit, much closer to the surface of your manuscript than the previous two. It’s primarily about grammar, spelling, punctuation and applying a publisher’s style.

A copyeditor might also suggest slight rearrangement of words in a sentence for better flow or better meaning. They might alert you to repetition of words or concepts.

A copyeditor will often create a Style Sheet for your book, which lists:

  • the dictionary and publishing style guide used in editing your work
  • the names used in the book, so they can be easily checked for consistency
  • decisions about spelling variations such as judgement / judgment or burnt / burned etc
  • decisions about hyphenated vs compound words such as back yard / backyard / back-yard.


  • If it’s your publisher’s copyedit being undertaken, style choices are usually the province of the publisher.
  • If you are self-publishing, you can decide your own preferences.
  • If you’re not sure what you prefer, your copyeditor will often be happy to suggest the choices for you, and then you can respond if you find you’d prefer a different option.

The author usually simply approves or rejects each edit (if self-publishing or if their publishing contract gives them that option), so there’s a smaller time demand for the author at the copyediting stage.

Copyediting examples

  • Consistency issues: “You have spelled your main character’s name two different ways, with one N or with two Ns,  Diane and Dianne. Which do you prefer?”
  • Grammar glitches: Let’s say your sentence was: Running to the door, the lock was jammed. “Currently you are saying the lock was running to the door. Possible solutions – ‘Running to the door, I found the lock was jammed.’ Although that tends to make the running and the finding simultaneous, whereas you run, then find. Perhaps: ‘I ran to the door, but the lock was jammed.’ ”
  • Copyright permissions: “You will need to apply for permission to quote these lyrics from the Beatles song.” (Some publishers will apply for lyric permissions for you. If you are self-publishing, it is your responsibility.)

Delivery of copyediting

  • Most copyeditors use Microsoft Word’s Track Changes function to show you the suggested changes in the text of your manuscript, and add comments in the margins where you can reply and have a conversation with them.
  • Many also provide a Style Sheet as a separate document.

Combination edits

Many editors are skilled across the various types of editing, and might do a combination edit for you that covers several aspects.

Some editors, particularly in small publishing houses, will take a “whatever the book needs” approach.

4. Proofreading

Proofreading isn’t really editing, but I include it in the list because I often encounter confusion among writers about the terminology.

Sometimes editing is mistakenly referred to as “proofreading”, but traditionally, the publishing industry has used the word to mean a very specific check performed on the “page proofs” – the laid-out pages that are almost ready to go to the printing press.

That’s the way I use the word. 🙂

Proofreading is the final round of corrections before publication, after a book has been typeset or formatted.


Proofreading happens right at the end of the process, just before a book goes to print.


The proofreader’s job is primarily about correctness, checking for:

  • any lingering typos
  • new flaws introduced during previous parts of the process (including any added by the author after rounds of editing), or glitches in typesetting
  • the correct placement of items in the page layout
  • cross referencing of Table of Contents, index, page numbers and running heads.

The proofreader polishes the surface to give that final sparkle of quality.

Even when a book has been through multiple passes beforehand, there are still more things for the proofreader to pick up. The publishing industry has proven this over many generations!


  • Proofreading is completed after the book has been typeset/formatted in layout software such as Adobe InDesign or Vellum, so it can’t be sent in Microsoft Word.
  • It is often delivered as electronic comments in a PDF or handwritten mark-ups on a print-out.
  • Usually, proofreading doesn’t affect the substance of the writing, so a publisher may or may not show an author the proofreader’s corrections, depending on that publisher’s process.
  • If you are self-publishing, it will be up to you or your contractor to apply the proofreading corrections to the formatted text.

5. Self-Editing

Sometimes called Revision or Rewriting.

I am a huge fan of self-editing, because of the results it produces that go far beyond the present manuscript.

Self-editing is where we refine, polish, strengthen and challenge every part of our manuscript… and develop further as authors.


I self-edit at various stages during the writing of my own manuscripts.

Some people say you should finish your first draft before doing any self-editing.

I say: do what works for you.

But if you find yourself endlessly refining Chapter 1 to avoid moving on to Chapter 2, maybe see if you can break that cycle… 🙂


Self-editing, like editing, is not just a spellcheck!

It incorporates all the types of tasks mentioned in the different types of professional editing above, from the Big Picture tasks to the fine detail corrections.

I’m such a big believer in revision and self-editing that I’m creating a series of online courses based on some of my most popular writing workshops. Click here to find out more about the Strengthen Your Book series.

This course would be most beneficial for:

  • Beginners who are not-yet-published, working out how to improve their own writing as much as they can.
  • More experienced writers who are not yet 100% happy with their self-editing process, and want to figure out if they could take their manuscript further.

You can see comments from other writers who have found it useful, to help give you a better feel for what’s in it.

I’m a writing coach as well as an editor, and I get all tingly when I see how writers change as they start to really get to grips with their self-editing and revision process.

Not just the extra skills they develop, but the growth in confidence and contentment. My friends, self-doubt is such a blockage to writers. We need to keep resisting it. The stories self-doubt tells us about our writing are not actually true.

Note: Self-editing does not replace professional editing. In fact, I still hire professional editors for my own self-published books, and work with my publisher’s editor on my traditionally-published books, even though I’m a 20+ year editor myself. I do that because it’s worth it.

BUT I have seen these types of benefits arise for myself and other writers when a manuscript goes through a thorough self-editing process:

  • Sometimes lower fees for professional editing, because the editor doesn’t need to spend as many hours on it.
  • Increased chances of having a manuscript acquired by a publisher.
  • Getting more value out of a professional edit, while staying within the desired budget.

What is your experience with the different types of editing and self-editing? Have you seen it change things for you, or writers you know?


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