Different Types of Editing and Why They Matter

By Alexa Padou
3 min read
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As a fellow writer, I’ll be the first to admit it took me a while to get the hang of the different types of editing packages available out there, and even more specifically, which is the best one for me. So I’ll start by sharing a little, hard-earned lesson: ask your questions. If you’re not sure what to pick, ask me. Send me an email, I don’t bite! And we can discuss where your novel is at and what might be the best course of action for you going forward.

And if you’re still unsure, ask me for a sample of what each editing service looks like. I know what it’s like seeing those prices and wondering if it’s a good idea. But another little thing I learned? Editing is an investment you’re making into your writing. And as my good friend and thriller author Eldon Farrell says, “This is an investment your future self will thank you for making!”

All great and good, but what are the different editing services out there?

Beta reading

If you’ve just finished your novel and want an honest, professional opinion on it, but are not yet ready to delve into the dark webs of editing, then you’ll want to find a beta reader. Beta readers exist all over reading groups, on Goodreads, or in trusted author communities. The difference with what I offer? Is that not only do I write in various genres, but I also read in them. Any reader will be able to tell you they enjoy X part of the novel and not Y part… but a good beta reader will point out everything that’s right and wrong with the story, and offer solutions.

Developmental/ Content editing

A developmental edit is, one can say, the first real stage of your editing. It focuses on the big-picture issues and character development, as well as the overall story arc. Does the story make sense? Are there loopholes? Did you contradict yourself somewhere? Is the pacing on point for the genre? Does the worldbuilding meet reader and genre expectations?

If you’re wondering what the difference between this and beta reading is, the answer is in what you, as a writer, get back. A beta reading will generally get you either a list of your questions answered with a few additional notes (I always provide an editorial report).

A developmental edit, on the other hand, means you’ll be getting your manuscript back with comments and tracked changes, as well as an editorial report. It’s an in-depth review of your entire novel that looks at the story, the characters, yes, but also the writing style, the structure of the story, grammar/punctuation, etc. I go more in-depth on what my developmental editing package contains further below, but in a nutshell, it’s the ultimate fix-all for your novel because you get the beta, the dev edits, a basic copy/line editing, and a basic proofread—in short, it’s a 4-in-1!​

Structural editing

Most developmental edits will focus on the structure of the story as well. But if this is something that you’re unsure of—maybe you have both present and past timelines in your story, and you’re not sure if you should divide it into parts, flashbacks, or whatnot—then you can ask me for a full structural edit. This is a custom order and will be discussed on a case-by-case basis. Generally speaking, a basic structural editing is included in my developmental editing package as well.

Copy and line editing

In technical terms, copy editing and line editing are different. Lately, a lot of editors seem to combine them into one service, and it’s usually the most popular outside of developmental edits. What’s important to know is that at this stage, the story is meant to be completely “fixed”, and both copy and line editing focus on the writing itself.

Copy editing will bring the final manuscript to a more professional standard, in that it will improve consistency (UK vs US spelling), coherency (by rewriting fragmented sentences), and clarity (fixing unclear expressions). It will also fix typos, though proofreading is an editing stage on its own. (If in doubt, check out our visual editing process flowchart.) Copy editors will look at spelling and grammar, but will mainly focus on dialogue tags, repetitions, word usage, POV and tenses, and descriptive inconsistencies.

Line editing, on the other hand, focuses on the flow of your prose, and the writing style itself. If an editor offers a line editing package, and you have an issue with dialogue tags, you may want to consider a full copy editing package instead. After all, line editing would focus on the strengthening of the prose itself, i.e. creative content.


Proofreading is, quite literally, the last pair of eyes on your novel. It’s the last polish, the last crossing of the Ts and dotting of the Is, and taking care of all those pesky commas! Extremely meticulous and detail-oriented, this last level of editing is a must-have for all authors.

But I can self-edit…can’t I?

The short answer is, yes. If you have the time, are willing to learn new skills, and have a knack for catching every single typo. The truth is, it’s a lot harder for us authors to see the mistakes in our own writing. But, I’m the last person to try to sway you one way or another. (If you want more thoughts on the subject, check out the blog post I wrote for The Writer’s Cookbook about self-editing versus using a professional.)

What I will say is, you have to give yourself a fighting chance. If writing is your passion, be ready to invest in it. A good developmental edit when you’re starting out will give you skills you can carry throughout your writing career. It will also set you up as an author who writes well and can deliver on what they promise readers. You get one chance to impress readers if you’re new in the publishing industry (or if you’re an experienced author trying out a brand-new genre). And, quite honestly, that’s where the editing difference really comes in—helping your book stand out, in the best of ways.

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