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different types of editors

find a book editor for your needs

If you’re looking into different types of editors, you may be coming across some terms that are confusing, or used incorrectly. In my own research, I’ve noticed that sometimes editorial terms are used interchangeably, which doesn’t help. There are two broad types of manuscript editing to be aware of when you’re looking to hire a freelance editor: services that deal with correctness (proofreading and copy editing), and services that deal with content (line editing and developmental editing). Be careful about what you request, and understand the services offered so that you get the most out of your time and financial investment.

Below, you will find the terms for different types of editors that you might encounter in your research. You will also notice that some editors provide all of these services, some provide only one or two. For example, I do everything. While my specialty is developmental editing, your project will arrive copy edited as well. If you’re confused, it’s always best to ask. Finding a good editor means they should be willing to explain their work to you.

These different types of editors, below, are listed in order of comprehensiveness and creative feedback on the manuscript, from least to most.

manuscript proofreader

Proofreading is a term that’s often confused with copy editing and line editing. But a proofreader is simply an editor who does one final comb through a manuscript before it goes to print. They are looking for typos, grammatical mistakes, formatting issues, and other minutiae. Writers looking to self-publish will often hire a manuscript proofreader to give their project a final once-over, but don’t expect creative feedback with this type of service.

Manuscript formatters and fact checkers also fall into this “light touch” category. They exist to format your manuscript correctly to publishing standards, and to check the factual accuracy of your project, respectively. Editors who provide ebook formatting and layout services are here as well. They are just some of the people you can hire if you want to assemble your editorial team piecemeal, but their creative contributions to the content are nonexistent, because they are serving a different role for your project.

manuscript copy editor

A copy editor looks at the overall grammar and mechanics of your manuscript, while checking the project at the sentence level for spelling, style, punctuation, etc. These changes often happen at the sentence and paragraph level. Comments on the overall quality of the writing and writing voice are usually included, but not always. Copy editing is one step up from proofreading in terms of comprehensiveness and creative feedback. If you’re still just looking for someone to focus on the basics of your writing, without messing around with your story too much, a copy editor would be a good choice.

Ask any copy editor you’re thinking of hiring what, exactly, is included in their services and the level of detail to expect, as a copy editor hovers between a proofreader and a line editor in terms of the definition of their role.

Manuscript line editor

A line editor works with grammar and mechanics, sure, but they are now entering more creative territory. Their questions are bigger issues of voice, writing style, readability, characterization, plotting, and storytelling. Issues of the writing craft enter the conversation here. If you want feedback on your writing basics, but are also looking for comments on what you’ve written and how to improve it, you will want to hire a line editor at minimum, rather than a proofreader or copy editor.

manuscript developmental editor

The most comprehensive and full-service editor you can hire is the developmental editor. Hiring a good developmental editor means you will receive all of the services of the copy editor and line editor, but also that of story and writing craft teacher. Developmental editors tend to think small and big at the same time, commenting on all areas of your manuscript, from voice at the sentence level to the overall arcs of your character and plot. They ask bigger questions about your story, thinking about character change, theme, your use of imagery, and more. They also think about a picture even bigger than that, asking questions about how you’re developing as a writer, and where your manuscript fits in the publishing landscape.

Some developmental editors—especially those with publishing industry experience—will even comment on your book’s market potential, how to strengthen the project with an eye toward getting a literary agent, and how to pitch the work. Developmental editors are truly the full-service manuscript gurus, but their services come at a higher price than other types of editors.

hiring an editor Next steps

Now you hopefully know more about different types of editors and what they do. Find a book editor who meets your needs, and be sure to ask questions. Passionate editors should always be willing to speak about their services and explain them in a clear and understandable way. A lot of my clients are just starting out or approaching an editor for the first time. There’s no penalty for being a beginner—every writer started out somewhere—so I am more than happy to explain my scope of services. You can read more about the process of how to find an editor here, or learn about price estimates of editorial service rates.

Decide what level of editorial services you need. Proofreading and copy editing tend to be more useful for cleaner manuscripts that need one last polish before submission or independent publication. When you think about hiring a freelance editor, know that you will best be served by either a line editor or developmental editor. These services do tend to be more expensive, but the level of feedback is worth the investment. Ideally, you will get enough advice about writing and storytelling that you can apply it to all of your future writing. That’s always my goal when I return an edit—I want to fill the writer’s toolbox in addition to discussing the issues on the page.

Please don’t hesitate to check out my writing craft book or reach out for editorial services via the contact form, below.

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