All the different editing terms can drive one crazy. You would think as editors, who value precision of language, we could agree on terms, but we don’t.
Despite all the different terms, there are generally four levels of editing. Your book doesn’t necessarily need to go through all four levels, though it might.
Level 1: Developing the Manuscript
At this level, the editor does not make any markings on the text. The editor reads your manuscript and provides feedback; sometimes they help you develop the story or book from just an outline.
For this, the editor writes a rather lengthy report (Often around 10–15 pages). The editor will focus on the most glaring big-picture issues.
The author then uses that feedback to make changes to the manuscript (or to write the manuscript if the editor was just working with an outline).
- Plot: Does the plot have holes? Is the conflict clear and compelling? Is the plot interesting? Does it reach a satisfying conclusion? Do you have a good balance of narrative summary and scenes?
- Characters: Are the characters consistent, unique, and well developed? Are their motivations clear?
- Setting: Is the setting effectively conveyed?
- Pacing: Does the story lag in certain parts?
- Genre: Does it conform to the requirements for that genre?
- Point of View: Is it consistent? Is it the best point of view for the story? Do you head-hop?
- Organization: Are the chapters in a logical order? Do the ideas build upon each other? Does everything in a particular chapter belong in that chapter?
- Content: Are the concepts well explained? Is there redundant content? Are there enough pieces of evidence or examples to explain each concept? Is it interesting with a unique selling point? Does the content match the sub heads?
- Audience: Is a clear audience defined? Is the word choice and language engaging and geared towards the intended audience?
- Purpose: Does the manuscript meet its intended purpose? Is the purpose clear?
Terms to describe this:
- Developmental editing (this term is also used by some in the next level)
- Manuscript Evaluation
- Manuscript Critique
- Editorial Report
Level 2: Big-Picture Editing
At this level, the editor will deal with the same big-picture items addressed in level one. But now rather than writing a lengthy report, they make comments and changes directly to the text, pointing out problems as they occur and offering suggestions on how to fix them.
Editors often also include a report with along with this. The report is just less extensive since it is supported with comments in the text.
If your book went through level one, you will have less big-picture issues. But while level one addresses the major big-picture issues on the manuscript as a whole, they may still remain on the chapter or paragraph level. Additionally, the report dealt with the most glaring issues; it did not necessarily address every issue. And you may not have sufficiently fixed the issues mentioned in the report.
If you went through a level one edit and your editor addressed all the big-pictures issues and you addressed everything in the manuscript critique thoroughly, you may not need this.
But just understand a level one edit doesn’t automatically negate the need for this.
- Everything addressed in level one, but now making comments and changes directly to the text as the plot, character, setting, pacing, and point of view issues occur.
- Do you have the right level of narrative distance at any given point?
- Is there a good balance between showing and telling?
- Do you info dump or let the reader learn information in a natural way?
- Everything addressed in level one, but now the editor makes comment and changes directly to the text as the organizational or content issues occur.
- Do you have clear transitions between ideas?
- Are there too many or too few subheads?
Terms to describe this:
- Developmental editing (yes, some use this term for this level as well)
- Substantive editing
- Content editing
- Structural Editing
- Heavy copyediting
Level 3: Word- and Sentence-Level Editing
At this level, the editor makes changes and comments to the words and sentences you use as well as fixing grammar, spelling, usage, and punctuation errors.
Some editors actually separate this in to two services: dealing with sentences and words (stylistic choices and best practices), and fixing errors.
So you may see editors who offer two different services at this level. Other editors, like me, prefer to just deal with all word- and sentence-level issues and call it one service.
Since some editors break it down into different services, I will define each type, but for me, I just call it all copyediting.
Terms to describe this:
- Line Editing/Medium Copyediting/Stylistic Editing: making changes to sentence structure and word choice, ensuring your language is clear, fluid, and pleasurable to read. This could mean rewriting awkward sounding sentences, querying sentences with unclear meaning, fixing syntax issues, suggesting more powerful word choice, etc.
- Copyediting/Light Copyediting: focusing on fixing grammar, spelling, punctuation, and usage errors
Level 4: Proofreading
Everyone calls this level proofreading. Finally, a standardized editing term we can agree on.
A proofreader acts as your last line of defense. The proofreader should not be the same person who worked as your editor at any level. (You may have had one editor or multiple editors.) Your editor or editors are too close to your material now and may easily miss the remaining errors.
A proofreader checks the following
- Grammar, spelling, usage, and punctuation errors
- Consistency in usage and presentation
- Accuracy in text, images, and layout
A TIP FOR YOU: I realize these different terms can make it hard for writers. However, most editors will list the type of editing they do and define what that means to them.
So if you go in knowing you want a developmental edit, but you mean that as level two big-picture editing not a level one developing the manuscript, make sure the editor defines that the same way as you.
If they don’t, then look to see if they call it something else or if they don’t offer that service.
Katie Chambers, owner of Beacon Point, is a nonfiction and fiction substantive (developmental) editor and copy editor for independent authors, content writer and editor for business professionals, and online teacher and tutor.
As an editor, she acts as a beacon by building partnerships with authors and encouraging them.
She loves books and believes they have the power to transform lives. And as such, she wants to ensure that nothing stands in the way of an author’s message or story by reducing errors and strengthening their writing and plot and character development.
Visit her business website, follow or chat with her on Twitter, or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn.
If you’re an author, take a look at her writing resources page to access free resources for you.