Editing is a crucial step in the writing process. But the nuances of the editing process are more complicated than they seem. There are several types of editing, each of which serves a specific function. Some editors examine a book on a macro level, while others will comb through a manuscript line-by-line.
In this article, we’ll help distinguish between the four main types of editing, and answer all the questions you may have regarding the editing process. What does an editor do? How much does an editor cost? How do you find a good editor? Read on to learn about all things editing.
The Four Main Types Of Editing
There are four main types of editing: Developmental editing, line editing, copyediting, and proofreading. Each type of editor looks at the writing from a different “zoom level.”
Also known as conceptual editing or substantive editing, a developmental editor evaluates books on a big picture level. A developmental editor will examine the book's components, some of which are:
Thesis Argument — A thesis is the central argument of your book. Business books, academic books, and other works of nonfiction need a strong thesis. Editors will ensure that your thesis is clear, compelling, and supported with strong arguments and examples.
Structure — The skeleton of your book is vital to keeping readers engaged. Editors will help writers organize their thoughts in a way that is streamlined, entertaining, and builds to a satisfying conclusion.
Themes — A theme is similar to a thesis argument. However, in fiction, themes are often underlying meaning, rather than explicitly stated. They are conveyed through your story, characters, world-building, and other elements. Conveying themes can be tricky, but editors will help writers to create a thematically resonant work.
Characters — Characters exist in both fiction and nonfiction writing. In nonfiction, characters may be based in reality, but their presence in the book must serve a purpose other than "they were in the room when it happened." Writing compelling characters can be extremely difficult. Editors will ask you important questions, such as “What does this character want above all else?” “Is this protagonist too passive in the plot?” “What is this side character's purpose in the story?”
The next level of editing is line editing. After you and your editor are satisfied with the larger aspects of your book (often after at least two or three drafts), it’s time to narrow your focus. As their title suggests, line editors examine the work line-by-line. This includes editing elements such as:
Clarity — Great ideas mean nothing if they aren’t clearly communicated. Sometimes it takes a third party to inform a writer their ideas aren’t quite landing. This can often be solved with small fixes that make a world of difference.
Tonal Consistency — The tone is the mood of your book. Examples of tone are: serious, light-hearted, informational, sarcastic, playful. Tone-shifts occurring between chapters, paragraphs, or sentences can be jarring for the reader, so line editors ensure tonal consistency.
Syntax — Syntax is defined as the arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences. Syntax can have an enormous effect on your work’s clarity, tone, and authority. If a sentence is poorly structured, the reader slows down, stops reading, and takes the author less seriously.
Copyediting is the most detail-oriented level of editing before you get to a proofreader. It’s easy to confuse copyediting with proofreading, but the two processes are quite different. At a publishing company, the copyeditor will work first, then a proofreader will catch anything the copyeditor missed. Copyeditors will be on the alert for:
Technical And Stylistic Consistency — When it comes to stylistic choices, your manuscript needs to be consistent. For example: An author is writing about their favorite movie. In one paragraph, they refer to this movie as “Casablanca,” while in another they write Casablanca. A good copyeditor will correct this.
Fact Checking — Let’s say an author writes “Abraham Lincoln was a vegetarion.” A proofreader would correct the spelling of “vegetarian,” while a copyeditor would be compelled to investigate whether this claim is true or false. (Although, the copyeditor may not be able to resist correcting any misspellings they find.)
Legality — Copyeditors will often ensure that your manuscript is not plagiarized in any way. If you’re writing about real people, they will ensure you’re not engaging in libel.
Grammar, Spelling, Punctuation — Like proofreaders, copyeditors will be on the lookout for grammatical errors that your word processor didn’t catch. Even the greatest authors need help with this. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s editor considered the author to be “a lamentable speller.”
Readability — Copywriters ensure the writing is easy to read. While this may seem simple, there are many grammatically correct sentences and phrases that are nonetheless very difficult to process. By reading the manuscript out loud, editors are able to identify problematic passages and improve them.
Proofreaders have a simple yet vital job in the process of publishing a book. They are the last line of defense before a book is shared with the world, and they ensure the manuscript is absolutely mistake-free. A proofreader does not seek to improve the quality of the content of a piece. A book could be the worst story ever written, but if it’s error free, then the proofreader has done their job successfully.
Common Mistakes Editors Look For
As described above, each type of editor will look for different things while working on a book.
One of the most famous mantras regarding substantive editing is William Faulkner’s “kill your darlings.” This phrase means to cut characters, scenes, words, or other elements of your book that do not enhance the thesis or story, no matter how much you adore them. If you don’t have the stomach to edit out your favorite but problematic passages, perhaps a developmental editor can do it for you.
Line Editors and Copyeditors
Copyeditors and line editors ensure your book is well-written on a line-by-line basis. This means addressing mistakes that are grammatically correct, but aren’t conducive to top level writing.
Avoiding Passive Voice —
“The book was written by the author” (passive).
“The author wrote the book” (active).
“Weak” words — Really, very, sort of, kind of, things, stuff
Paragraph Structure — If you’re making an argument, your paragraphs should follow the standard three-part structure: Thesis statement, argument, conclusion.
Concise Writing — Short sentences are more effective than long ones. Avoid meandering run-on sentences.
Proofreaders are on the lookout for smaller mistakes. Common errors these editors catch are:
Inconsistency of style — 6 PM in one paragraph and 6 p.m. in another.
Homophones — “Accept” vs. “Except,” “Capital” vs. “Capitol.”
Compound Words — Copyediting. Copy-editing. Copy editing.
Double words, double spaces, and typos
How Much Do Professional Editors Cost?
Like any profession, there’s great variance when it comes to the cost of a book editor. In general, developmental editing costs more than line editing and copyediting, which in turn costs more than proofreading.
If your editor charges hourly, expect to pay at least $36-$50/hr in 2023 for a proofreader or copyeditor. Developmental editors will likely fall around $46-$70/hr.
If your editor charges by the word, rates for copyediting often fall between $.02-$.049/wd. Rates for developmental editing fall from $.03–$.079/wd.
Here’s a handy chart, courtesy of the Editorial Freelancers Association website.
To put this in perspective, let’s use an example:
If you’re writing a 50,000 word business book and you need a copyeditor, expect to pay around $2,250 for the job. If you need developmental editing on the same book, you’ll likely pay close to $4,000.
In What Circumstances Should Writers Hire A Professional Editor?
“To Write is Human. To Edit is Divine.”
All writers should self-edit their work. But hiring a professional editor out-of-pocket depends on whether a writer is planning to self publish or is working with a publishing company.
When self publishing, authors must hire an editor themselves. Business books and self-help books in particular attract first-time authors who want to share their ideas, anecdotes, and expertise with an audience, but lack the writing experience to captivate a wide audience. For these authors, developmental editors can be the perfect partner to help them realize their vision.
Writers who are serious about self-publishing should also hire a proofreader to ensure their book is error-free, as they can’t rely on a publishing company as the last line of defense.
Submitting to a Publisher
Publishing companies have their own in-house editors. Therefore, if you’re submitting to a publisher, you’re expecting the professional editing to be provided for you. However, it's best practice to hire a proofreader before you submit your work to anyone. A manuscript riddled with typos will not make a good impression on those you’re hoping to represent you.
At the very least, it’s wise to hire a copyeditor or proofreader to look over the query letter you send out to agents, publishing executives, and others in the book world. Query letters are what will convince someone to take a chance and you… it better be good!
When Should A Writer Hire An Editor?
Writers can hire a developmental editor or a book coach at any point in their writing process. Even if they are confident in the quality of their work, substantive editors can provide fresh insight that takes a book to the next level.
Copyeditors and proofreaders come in only after the writer has a completely finished manuscript. If a writer decides to do another draft once the book has been copyedited and proofread, they will need to go through the editing process a second time to ensure no further mistakes were made during the rewrite.
How To Find An Editor
Writing is a solitary task. But when it’s time to ask for help, where do you turn? A good editor can be hard to come by, so writers must choose wisely.
Ask A Friend To Read Your Manuscript
Developmental editing can be treated more experimentally than proofreading, copyediting, or line editing. For writers new to the world of book publishing, any eyes you can get on your manuscript will be beneficial. If you have friends in the world of writing or publishing, ask them to give your book a read and listen to their feedback. In return, you can read something they’re working on. Even friends who aren’t “experts” will be helpful, as they represent your average reader.
You should not rely on non-professionals for proofreading or copyediting services, as these trades require a more experienced, technical eye.
Use Your Network
For writers, building a network of people with similar goals is vital. Your network can help you find paid writing opportunities, inspire you to reach your goals, hold you accountable when you want to quit, and recommend professionals like editors and proofreaders. Developmental editors and line editors often work best in specific genres, so reach out to those in your network who have worked on a book in the same genre as yours.
Writers can find plenty of freelance editors online. Websites for editors and proofreaders include:
Fiverr - all editing
Reedsy - literary editing
Upwork - all editing
Prime Authors - literary editing
Scribbr - academic proofreading
However, you’ll want to be careful who you hire. Be as specific as possible. Only hire an editor who understands exactly what you’re looking for regarding type of editing, thoroughness, price, genre, and experience level. If the editor is working by the hour, ensure that you have a budget cap. When possible, ask the editor for references or samples of their previous work.
Consult A Ghostwriting Agency
Ghostwriting companies employ top-tier professional writers and editors, and can be an ideal resource for writers looking to complete their project. Ghostwriters are very similar to developmental editors, helping authors realize their vision through discussions, interviews, and additional research.
At Write It Great, we do two full drafts of our books, plus all editing practices. If you’re considering authoring a business book, the expert writers and editors at Write It Great may be just what you need to make that dream a reality.