The 3 Different Types of Editing

The 3 Different Types of Editing

Some folks will insist there are actually four types of editing, but I’m in the “three types” camp, so that’s how we’re going to roll.

Now, I’m sure you’re thinking you’ve got to be joking, right? Three types of edits! Nah, editing is editing!

Alas young Padawan, there ARE actually three main types of editing that a manuscript can go through, and three specific pieces of information you need to know for each, so here goes:

  1. Content/Developmental editing
  2. Line editing
  3. Copy editing

Some say that proofreading is the fourth, but I feel like that’s a component of copy editing, so we’re leaving it out. We can have a debate over that in the comments if it really puts your knickers in a twist 😎

So, three types of editing. Let’s dive in!


#1 – Content/Developmental Editing

What Does a Developmental Editor Do?

This is me! They’re sometimes called substantive or developmental editors. We deal with the manuscript’s overall content, basically what all those words mean that you put together.

We’ll find the plot holes, boring characters, passive voice, or yawn-inducing pacing. But beyond that, we get into the dialogue, POV errors, and that pesky “show don’t tell” guy. Content editing also includes lifeless middles, info dumps, or lack of conflict.

So basically, content editors look at the big picture, the whole kit and caboodle, the big behemoth. Most content editors won’t touch spelling and grammar mistakes, that stuff comes later.

This type of editor reads the manuscript in its entirety and gives a complete analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the plot and characters.

Most developmental editors will make comments in the manuscript, but usually won’t make any changes directly to it. But I’ve seen it go both ways. Sometimes a content editor will point out word usage that improves the flow and/or understanding of the sentence.

A fun fact: most traditional publishers don’t actually supply developmental editors. It’s expected that writers or agents send them manuscripts that are already polished story-wise and don’t require a lot of work on that front.

This is the first and most important type of editor for a work of fiction. If you do this after a line or copy edit, you’ll end up paying to do the line/copy edit twice, so keep that in mind.

How much does a developmental edit cost?

I’m glad you asked, young grasshopper. Some charge per word, some per page, and others a flat hourly rate. You can find a really helpful list of EFA rates here, which can give you a rough ballpark.

Some charge per word, per page, or an hourly fee. Generally, most developmental editors charge per word, somewhere between $0.03 and $0.12 per word. If the developmental editor you’re looking at charges by page, it can range from $7.50-$20.00.

How do you hire an amazing developmental editor?

This is where a good network comes into play. You can ask author friends or writers’ groups you belong to. I can guarantee you they’d have recommendations for editors they’ve used and loved.

If you’re not satisfied with their offerings, or you don’t yet have those resources available, you can always turn to the EFA, LinkedIn, Reedsy, or Upwork. They’re all great resources to find tons of editors. If all else fails, a trusty Google search can also turn out some leads.

But since I’m the best of the best of the best, you can just hire me 😎 (I’m also the humblest human ever, so there’s that.)


#2 Line editing

What does a line editor do?

A line editor draws lines all across your pages, like pretty decorations! Just kidding 😂

A line editor makes a line-by-line (surprising right!) review of the manuscript. They’ll point out things like passive voice, wordiness, weak words, repeated words, weird phrases, repetition, and paragraph structure.

There is some overlap with copy editing, and the boundaries are sometimes fuzzy. But there is a difference. Line editing doesn’t focus on content, but on the prose itself. This helps maintain a consistent mood through each paragraph.

How much does a line edit cost?

Let’s discuss the matter of payment (haha! Name that movie!?). The industry average for a line editor is about $0.05 per word, $12.50 per page, or $62.50 per hour.

How do you hire a great line editor?

Same as a developmental editor. You can ask writers groups and writer friends for recommendations.

Reedsy and UpWork also have an extensive list, as well as browsing LinkedIn.


#2 – Copy Editing

What does a copy editor do?

A copy editor checks the technical details of words on a page, and corrects any errors they find. They’re looking at primarily at grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Basically, they make sure all those commas, periods, and semicolons are in the right place, doing the right things. They’ll be the ones to find run-on sentences, or put a comma where one is missing.

As with all types of editors, they might also catch some continuity errors, like eye color changes, calling characters by the wrong name, etc. But that isn’t their core focus.

Copy editors are the ones who follow the rules of grammar, and there are very few style choices in this field. They will reference things like The Elements of Style, and Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage.

This is where Microsoft Word’s track changes feature comes in to play the most, if they’re doing on-screen editing.

Now, a fact that some readers don’t really get: no matter how much editing you go through, there will always be issues with books, even printed ones that have been edited with a fine-tooth comb by a team of professionals.

No one is perfect. There are always errant commas and misused words. Not even the big publishing houses can claim to be 100% perfect.

But copy editing is still an important step, because a lot of readers (and I mean a lot) will really hate a book if it has poor grammar and punctuation, as it pulls them out of flow and, in a way, breaks the fourth wall.

So, this isn’t a step to skip or take lightly. Do your research and find a good copy editor!

What does a copy edit cost?

The average rate for a good copy editor is roughly $0.02-$0.04/word, $5-10/page, or at least $30 an hour. But generally, it will probably cost around $50 an hour, and you can expect a copy editor working on a fiction book to manage 7 to 10 pages per hour.

Considering that a lot of people will DNF (Did Not Finish) a book if the grammar/punctuation is shit, it’s a necessary expense.

How do you hire a copy editor?

I know it will shock you, so hold on to your pants…you find a copy editor the same way as the others, by hitting up your writing groups and friends for rec’s. If that doesn’t do it, then the EFA, Reedsy, UpWork, and LinkedIn will surely have someone to satisfy you.

This is the last type of edit you should do, and only after you have your manuscript otherwise completed. ALWAYS do this after a developmental and/or line edit (anything that requires rewriting), because otherwise you’ll have to go back and do another copy edit of anything that has changed before it can be published.

As mentioned earlier, no point in paying for this twice…

So that’s it! The three types of editing to make your novel really shine and impress all the picky cats out there. Having a novel that stands out from the crowd is important, and one of the easiest ways is to make sure your manuscript is polished in every way possible.

You *could* do all of this yourself, if you have the training and attention to detail, but authors tend to develop a sort of attentional blindness to little things in their manuscript (since you wrote it, your brain isn’t usually giving it full attention when you read what you wrote). As such, you should really get a fresh (trained!) pair of eyes on your manuscript before you hit publish.

But hey, you do you.

Now, go forth and write!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *