Content Editing, Line Editing, Proofreading… Oh My!


Tuesday Tips (1)

Last week, we talked about the absolute necessity of editing and learning how to develop a thick skin as an author in order to make certain that your book is the best it can possibly be. Today we’re going to talk a little bit about the different KINDS of editing out there. There are quite a few different options, and for a new author it can be downright overwhelming. You poke your head out of your den and go on facebook to say you’ve finished your book and now you need an editor. Immediately, you are barraged with recommendations and questions like, “What kind of editor are you looking for? I have a great substantive editor!” And your little authorly heart stops.

What KIND of editor?

There are different kinds?

I have to choose?

But never fear! Because I’m here to give you a run-down on the different kinds of editing you can choose from and why each one is important. Thankfully, there aren’t really as many types of editing as you might think, since several of them have multiple names that mean the same thing! Also, I’m going to talk about these in the order in which they should happen, to keep confusion to a minimum!

Developmental (also known as “substantive” or “big picture”) Editing – This is the kind of editing that looks at the entire story as a whole and pokes at the weak spots to see if they hold up. This pass of edits does not bother overly much with typos and grammar and punctuation, this focuses on the story. Are there plot holes? Are the characters three-dimensional? Do things make sense? Are there any big problems with the structure of the story that need to be addressed?

Developmental editing is a fantastic thing to have, especially if you happen to be more of a pantser when you write (“pantser” means you generally do not plot things out or use an outline, you just write as the story and characters lead you). However, I have found that oftentimes you can get a lot of these “big picture” issues pointed out by a couple of really solid beta readers.

Beta Readers – While not exactly “editors” I am including beta readers here in this post because I find them to be an important step in the editing process. It is important to remember that beta readers are NOT editors. They should not be expected to find typos or check your punctuation. Beta readers are generally people who volunteer to read your story in its pre-edited form and give you feedback on things they liked/didn’t like about the story. Some beta readers will give you an overall impression of the book. The best beta readers will make comments throughout your story, pointing out plot holes, things that didn’t make sense, anything that pulled them out of the story or detracted from their reading experience. (Trust me, if you can find a couple of the latter type, hold on to them and never let them go!)

Line Editing - This level of editing gets more into the nuts and bolts of your prose. It looks at your style and points out things like whether or not all your sentences are too close in length, places where your wording is repetitive, places where you present information in a confusing way, or awkward wording that detracts from your story.

Copy Editing - This level is sometimes combined with or included in line editing, but this is were we really get into the mechanical issues: typos, grammar, and punctuation. A copy editor will also note inconsistencies, for example: whether or not you consistently use British or American spellings, whether or not you capitalize certain words throughout your book. This is also a pass of editing that can catch inconsistencies and issues that were CAUSED by earlier revisions! Yep, that can happen. This is why multiple passes of editing are important.

Proofreading - This is the last pass of editing, and should take place when all other revisions are complete. This is the final look over the manuscript to make sure that it is as error-free as possible!

So, now that you know all that… what kind of editing does your manuscript need?

Being perfectly honest, I take every manuscript through every one of these passes. This is why the editing process takes me a while (usually editing takes longer than it took to write the book in the first place). I don’t always do a ton of re-writing in my books, though it has been known to happen, so if you write a “cleaner” rough draft than I do, you might not need to invest in all of these levels. At the very least, I highly recommend Beta Readers, line editing, and proofreading.


~ jenelle



Excellent advice, as always. Though, a comment on beta-readers: while you shouldn’t EXPECT them to function as editors, some will anyway, to a degree. It just depends on the beta-reader’s style and how his/her brain works.


Oh yes, definitely!! Several of my beta readers are great with the spelling and mechanical knowledge!

Abbey Stellingwerff

Great post! I took an editing class last fall where we learned about and tried out all the different stages. I must say, I enjoy beta reading or substantive editing the best… Line/copy editing is what made me want to not be an editor anymore :O


I write “clean” first drafts, but I am staggeringly blind to plot holes, so I always need an overall edit before I start revising. Good beta-reads are key too!


Good beta readers are a definite must for me! I don’t usually get them pointing out major plot holes, but they do a good job of giving me ideas like, “I actually think THIS bit in the middle of chapter 4 should be what you open the book with.” (Which did happen with Minstrel’s Call, LOL) it often means some rewriting/reworking for me, but they were right, it made the opening scenes a lot stronger, as well as the entire story.


I love hearing from you, dear Reader!