Which Type of Book Editing Do You Need?

4/11/20244 min read

Every writer needs their work edited. But editing isn’t a catch-all task that can make a book perfect in one pass. To ensure a book’s efficiency and quality, it has to go through stages of editing, with each stage having a different focus and specialization. But how would you know which type of editing is best for your written work?

Finding the best type of editing can be confusing to a new author (and even to a few published authors). That’s because the industry doesn’t really have a set boundary on the work required for each type of editing. So often these editing terms overlap and include different tasks.

Essentially, there are two levels at play in book editing — macro and micro.

Macro Edits

This level of editing tackles the big picture work: think of structure and organization, flow, POV, and pacing. Macro editing considers the entirety of the book as well as focuses on the chapter and paragraph level.

Developmental editing, substantive editing, and manuscript critiques fall under this level of editing.

Developmental Editing

Developmental editing, just as the name implies, is the development stage of your manuscript. Because this type of edit happens early in the writing process, the author and the editor shape the manuscript together. If you need help turning your ideas or rough outline into a book, this is where developmental editing comes into play.

The developmental editor looks deeply at the content of the work — if the arguments and flow make sense, if the logic has flaws and holes, if there are key details that are missing, and if the ideas are clearly developed and articulated.

This is where big changes to the manuscript are made. The developmental editor should help you rectify the weaknesses in the manuscript and develop its strengths.

Often, the developmental editor will delete sections that don’t serve the book’s main thesis or suggest adding information that the author may have overlooked, but they don’t do writing or rewriting.

Along with developmental suggestions on the manuscript file, the author will also receive a manuscript evaluation, which analyzes the book’s strengths and weaknesses, readership profile, and further notes and suggestions to improve the manuscript.

Good writing tells a story (yes, even nonfiction books), and it’s the developmental editor’s job to help you shape that story.

Alternative: Manuscript Evaluation

Manuscript evaluation is an affordable first step for authors who want to do structural revisions. A professional editor will provide the author with a report, analyzing the manuscript’s strengths and weaknesses as well as suggestions to improve the book. However, unlike in developmental editing, the editor won’t make changes to the manuscript.

Substantive Editing

A combination of the macro and micro levels of editing, substantive editing focuses on the structure and content of the manuscript as well as the words. This type of editing is usually interchanged with developmental editing and line editing because of the overlapping nature of work required in this stage.

Substantive editing addresses the manuscript’s organization, flow and transitions, and construction of ideas by checking on a paragraph and chapter level. The substantive editor should be able to point out incomplete sections, and resolve the flow and construction of the chapters and sections in the manuscript.

Aside from tackling structure and content, the substantive editor should also refine the manuscript’s tone (the author’s mood) and voice (how the writing sounds like) to fit the author’s target readers.

While some authors can forgo developmental editing, substantive editing is a must before jumping to any micro-level editing. Otherwise, a book won’t have any proper structure or logic.

A developmental or evaluation editor helps you build the house (the book) and figure out which rooms (chapters) should go where. With those rooms in place, the content editor’s job is to help you arrange the furniture (sections and paragraphs) inside those rooms in a way that’s appealing. Unlike line editors, they’re not concerned with the decorations (sentences).

Micro Edits

Micro editing focuses on the sentence-level issues of the manuscript. It looks at the text on a line-by-line and word-by-word basis to ensure that the work is clear and readable. While this level of editing concerns itself on the intricacies and rules of writing, creative feedback and input from the editor is also at play here.

Line editing, copyediting, and proofreading fall under this level of editing.

Line Editing

Line editing delves into the intricacies of writing. As the name suggests, the editor checks the manuscript line by line, sentence by sentence to make sure the flow and use of words have maximum impact on the readers.

Just like in substantive editing, line editing is concerned with flow, but more so on how the sentences flow together. This stage focuses on tightening at a sentence level; meaning, each sentence says what it needs to say. the line editor focuses on the word choice and how each of them impacts a sentence, making sure that readers stay interested.

This stage of editing also addresses syntax (run-on sentences and sentence fragments) issues, wordiness, and overuse of cliches and jargons. It also makes sure that the sentences are clear to the readers.


Because line editing and copyediting often have overlapping tasks, these two types of editing are usually done simultaneously. However, while line editing is the creative or emotional edit, copyediting is the mechanical edit.

Focusing on the nitty-gritty of the manuscript, a copyedit makes sure that the reader can follow the story without distraction (inconsistent spelling, grammatical mistakes, or wrong punctuation placement to name a few). Aside from finding and correcting mistakes, the copyeditor also makes sure that the book observes the proper style guide (most books follow the Chicago Manual of Style).

The copyediting stage addresses consistency in style (spelling, punctuation, capitalizations, etc.), fixes language issues (grammar and syntax), clarifies unfamiliar terms, and checks factual inconsistencies.

Aside from a marked up manuscript, the copyeditor should also provide a style sheet, which records the editorial decisions on language and style, proper-noun spellings, number format, and many more.

A copyedit distinguishes a professional book from an amateur-looking book, which is why this editing step is recommended for all authors.

(see the different levels of copyediting here)


Proofreading is the final review before publication, and it should be done after the book has been designed and formatted. It is often interchanged with copyediting, but they are completely separate and different processes with different benefits.

While both processes look for and correct typos and punctuation errors, proofreading also looks for layout errors (inconsistent headings, errors in page numbers, errors in tables and figures, etc.). Unlike copyeditors, proofreaders won’t fix the author’s style and content — only the errors in the manuscript.

Copyeditors catch all the mistakes the author missed. Proofreaders catch all the mistakes the copyeditor missed.

woman in white tank top reading book
woman in white tank top reading book