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Editing: Types And Tips

Today you can write any book you want and get it distributed around the world without waiting for an approving nod from a stuffed shirt in a New York City skyscraper.

The problem is that it can be a rats nest out there getting the right vendors involved. You need the right cover designer, interior designer, choose the right publishing option, and one of the most important service partners — securing the right editor for your unique voice.

Editing your book is the most intense and most expensive leg of your publishing journey. But taking shortcuts on the editing process tops the list of ‘Biggest Mistakes Authors Make in Self-Publishing’. Please don’t do it. If your “neighbor used to be an English teacher,” she’s not an editor. If you “can’t afford it” then keep saving until you can. It’s that important.

The great Science Fiction author Theodore Sturgeon coined “Sturgeon’s Law”, which states that “90% of everything is crap.” Don’t allow your book to be in that 90%. Nothing will kill a book faster than a shortcut in editing.

There are various levels of editing from proofing to the more intensive developmental editing. (A good editor knows the differences and will not put you through the developmental process if it’s not needed, so don’t worry about that!) The relationship you create with your editor is a very close one. It’s collaborative and you have to trust each other. So choose them carefully.

Most editors can give you a sample edit to showcase their work, so a good way to choose your editor is to have at least three editors give a sample edit of the same 5 – 10 pages of your manuscript. What are their comments? Do they honor your voice and style? Do they understand what you’re trying to do and how you’re trying to get there, and can help you polish it up? Do they ask the right questions? This review will also pave the way for a more comprehensive evaluation of your work and what they think it needs. It’s worth noting that no editor can foresee every eventuality from the sample alone but it’s usually darn close.

Here are 6 kinds of editing

Developmental Editing

Developmental editing involves going through your manuscript with a keen eye for details; keeping track of characters, events, timelines, organization and logic. In a developmental edit, or dev edit, we’re looking at the larger organizational questions in your work. This is the kind of editing that involves rearranging sections of the work and other changes that could be considered large.

Substantive Editing

Substantive or line editing involves cleaning up prose and language, removing redundancy, and helping keep the language consistent throughout the text. After a preliminary readthrough, the editor makes corrections and suggestions to the actual writing all while keeping track of idiosyncrasies that you, the author, may have deliberately designed into the text. Unlike developmental editing, a substantive edit assumes that there will be no major organizational changes.


Proofing is what most people think of when they think of editors. Proofing involves a line by line examination of the entire manuscript to correct spelling errors, fix grammar and punctuation, as well as to ensure consistency. Proofers will search your writing, carefully ensuring that errors are removed and style kept consistent throughout.

Copy Editing

Copy editing denotes lighter editing that looks mostly for structural problems within sentences. Unlike proofing, this level can involve some minor changes and tweaking, but basically assumes that the language in the manuscript is more or less in its final form. At this level, the editor will go through the work, make sure that word choice and style are good, but otherwise limit the scope and scale of recommended changes. Often, an author will want a copy edit to follow a deeper developmental edit.

Manuscript Evaluation

Oftentimes, a writer isn’t sure if their manuscript is ready to go on to editing or to be published. In order to save time and expense, some editors offer manuscript evaluations in order to help guide new writers into the process. They will carefully review your work, searching your manuscript for strengths, weaknesses, and ultimately, readiness. At the completion of our evaluation, you will receive a seven to ten-page valuation that provides recommendations for revision and advice for the steps that you might want to consider before hiring an editor.

Indexing and Research

Research and Indexing are services that can prove invaluable to writers and developers of nonfiction content. This warrants a very special kind of editor.

How do I find an editor that’s good for my manuscript, my genre, my voice?

  1. You can start by asking an experienced book coach. They know the good from the not-so-good, and who might fit your voice, your style.
  2. Ask other industry professionals.
  3. You can peruse through the Editorial Freelancers Association:
  4. Many times, editors are mentioned in the Acknowledgments section of a book. If there is a book that you like, find an editor’s name there and find them on LinkedIn.

To reiterate, a good editor is the most important part of your publishing journey. Don’t take it lightly, and certainly don’t land on the first editor you meet at a networking event. Interview them, research the work they’ve done, and ask for a sample edit from least 3 editors before you take the plunge. It’s a partnership, almost to the point of hiring a good therapist. You’ll become close. And like any good partnership, together you’ll create magic.

polly letofsky

Polly Letofsky

Founder, Self-Publishing Consultant

After frustrating experiences with dodgy publishers, Polly Letofsky launched herself into learning every aspect of the publishing industry.

Years later, when she started to draft her plan for a new model of self-publishing, Polly wanted to set up a system that guided authors through the publishing of their own book seamlessly, swiftly, and affordably. A place where the author upholds all creative control, maintains all distribution rights, and all the profits end up in their hands.

Learn more about Polly!