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  • Writer's pictureGrammar Boss

3 Common Editing Services and When You Need Them

As a new author it can be overwhelming to try and find an editor who is experienced in your genre and within your budget. Plus, it’s hard to be sure what kind of editing you need in the first place. The web is crammed with editing sites offering a dizzying array of services: copyediting, line editing, substantive editing, content editing, developmental editing, proofreading—what does it all mean and who do you hire for what?

The good news is it’s not as complicated as your Google search results can make it seem.

While some editors specialize in just one type of editing, particularly if they work for a major publisher, most freelance editors offer various kinds of services and are willing to help determine what you need. To help you get a heads-up on the vocabulary, I’ve included here the three most common kinds of editing, and when you might need them.


What is it?

This is a comprehensive manuscript review that addresses everything from the structure of your book to characterization, plot, pacing, style and conflict. Also called content or substantive editing, it’s often needed in the beginning stages of a book or when a writer is unsure or ‘stuck’ about how to finish. This service can often involve heavily cutting, moving and re-shaping the material. It’s the most in-depth of the three services, and usually doesn’t include proofreading.

When do you need it?

Most writers hire a developmental editor when their book is, for the most part, already written and they need help organizing the content into a coherent flow (non-fiction) or shaping and fine-tuning the storyline (fiction). Some writers may also hire a developmental editor to help with an older book that they want to revise and re-release.


What is it?

Once your manuscript has a solid backbone of storyline, character development and plot structure, it’s ready for copy editing. This service will perfect your text, strengthen your prose and ensure consistency of style. Also called line editing, this kind of editing checks for things like word choice, sentence structure, consistency in style, verb tense and any other issues related to the overall readability. Some editors will also provide an additional round of proofreading with this service.

When do you need it?

Writers generally hire a copyeditor when they’ve already done several revisions on their book themselves, and have sent it to beta readers (a select group of readers who provide critical feedback on a writer’s manuscript), and have considered and applied their feedback as well.


What is it?

The final stage, this is a thorough check of small errors in punctuation, spelling, and grammar. A proofread will not provide feedback on topics such as structure or other larger editorial issues, but will put the final polish on your work.

When do you need it?

Only send your manuscript to be proofread once you’re absolutely certain you’re finished adding any additional content. When you get your proofread copy back, you’ll want to eyeball it one last time before it goes to formatting, but there should be no need at that point. Some editors (myself included) will only offer to proofread a manuscript if they’ve done the copy (or line) editing, or know and trust the editor who did. Sometimes writers will try and go straight to a proofreader without a thorough copyedit, and it shows.


It’s worth asking your editor if they offer discounts for multiple services, as sometimes you’ll need a combination of the above. For example, I’ll often offer to do a final proofread at a discount for clients who hire me to copyedit; it takes me less time than someone new to the manuscript, since I’m already familiar with it. However, some writers prefer to have a different proofreader for the same reason—they think another set of eyes is worth the extra cost.

Always send a sample of your writing to a potential editor; they may offer to edit a few pages for free, and in the process, determine what kind of service you need and what fee they will charge to do the work. It’s an added step in the process, but well worth it.

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