Survey any group of editors, writers, and publishing professionals about how many types of editing there are, and you’re likely to get mixed results. While we all agree some core pillars of the editorial process need to happen in a specific order, the lines between types of editing can get a little blurry. 

If a traditional publisher has acquired your book, a team of editors will manage all phases of the editorial process. (No, you won’t get to pick who you work with.) For self-published authors, sourcing and hiring editors for your upcoming fiction or nonfiction book is totally up to you.

Yes, you read that right. Editors. As in, more than one. Not every editor offers every type of editorial service. In fact, many editors specialize in only one or two types of editing.

If the concept of a multi-layer editorial process is news to you, here is a simple breakdown of the four major types of editing every self-published book should go through before publication. 

1. Developmental Editing

After several rounds of self-editing and maybe even getting some feedback from beta readers, developmental editing is the first major step in the editing process. Developmental editing is also known as content or substantive editing and is when the editor assesses the entire manuscript for big-picture issues. 

During a developmental edit, your editor will assess the plot, pacing, setting, world-building, character, voice, repetition, consistency, and structure. After completing their assessment, your editor will provide you with a robust critique or editorial report that lays out a roadmap of everything that is working well in your manuscript, and areas that should be expanded, cut down, or entirely reworked. 

2. Line Editing

Line editing is sometimes called stylistic editing—and rightfully so! Line editing is all about assessing the style of your writing. During this phase of the editing process, your editor will comb through your manuscript line-by-line to do a deep dive into your prose. 

Now is the time to think about word choice, sentence structure, tone, voice, bias, clarity, and intent. Not only will your editor look at the strength of each sentence individually, but they will also consider the relationship between sentences and paragraphs and make suggestions to refine your narrative. 

3. Copyediting

After you’ve addressed all big-picture and stylistic issues in your manuscript, it’s time to hire a copyeditor. Unlike developmental and line editing, copyediting is all about the mechanics of writing. 

Your copyeditor will use all 1,144 pages of the 17th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style to ensure your manuscript has the four Cs: clarity, consistency, correctness, and cohesion. During a copyedit, your editor will be checking the following:

  • Grammar
  • Spelling
  • Punctuation
  • Capitalization
  • Repetition
  • Syntax
  • Diction
  • Dialogue tags
  • Subject-verb agreement
  • Consistent style and format
  • Consistent tense
  • Sentence clarity
  • Figures, tables, and pictures

4. Proofreading

While proofreading is technically a type of editing, proofreading is usually separated from other forms of editing and marketed as a vastly different service. Proofreading should only happen after developmental editing, line editing, and copyediting are all completed. 

It’s also best practice to hire a different editor for proofreading than the editor (or editors) you worked with for the earlier stages of the editing process. This is because the proofreader is the final set of professionally-trained hands on your manuscript before publication, and they need to be able to assess your manuscript with a fresh set of eyes. 

If you’re working with a professional book formatter, not only will your proofreader be checking for any lingering typos or inconsistencies in your text, but they’ll also be assessing the formatting, layout, and design for any issues that may have slipped into your manuscript during the formatting process. 

What Types of Editing Do You Need?

If you’re asking for my professional opinion, the answer is, “All of the above.” However, sometimes hiring four different editors is just not feasible for self-published authors. Fortunately, the digital age has created space for a myriad of online writing groups, coaching programs, and downloadable resources like my free self-editing guide, Self-Edit Like a Pro: 13 Simple and Actionable Steps to Improve Your Writing.

Solely relying on writing courses and self-editing may limit your chances of becoming a wildly successful author. Too many typos, poor grammar, plot holes, and inconsistent characters can cause your readers to DNF your book and leave a negative review online—a situation you definitely want to avoid! 

Behind every great writer is at least one editor, a patient critique partner, and maybe even a writing coach. Shoot, even editors hire other editors to elevate their writing! An outside perspective from a professional editor with a reputable track record, experience with your industry or genre, and some sort of professional development or training is one of the best investments you can make for your book.

Author Info

Ellen Edits

Ellen Polk is the founder of Ellen Edits, an editorial studio providing full-service copyediting, proofreading, and consulting for creative business owners and independent authors who are publishing digital content and full-length fiction and nonfiction manuscripts.


Instagram: @_ellenedits
TikTok: @ellen.edits.words
Twitter: @_ellenedits
LinkedIn: Ellen Marker-Polk

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