Which Kind(s) of Editing Does Your Novel Need?

Notice the title of this post is not Does your novel need editing? The answer to that question is YES. Always. I don’t care if you wrote The Great Gatsby of the modern day; your novel needs to be edited.

For those of you going the traditional publishing route, this question is a little less important. Personally, I would advise paying for a professional edit or two to give your novel a leg up when it reaches potential agents and/or publishers. However, once you sign on the dotted line, your publishing company will hook you up with editing and everything will be hunky dory. More on the traditional publishing process here.

For those of you going the independent route (like me!), editing is crucial. Selecting which type — or, more commonly, type— of editing you need is one of the many “sell or sink” decisions you will make during the book creation process. This is especially difficult to do if you have little-to-no experience with editing and/or are on a tight budget. Let’s face it: the editing world is filled with varying verbiage and even more varying prices.

Here are the five most common types of editing indie authors utilize: from most intensive/large scale and most expensive to least intensive/micro scale and cheapest.

Developmental Editing

Typically, developmental editing takes place while the author is still drafting the novel. In this type of editing, the editor will work with the author to help develop the plot, subplots, characters, story arc, etc. To an extent, the editor acts like a co-author or counselor, helping the author bring his ideas to fruition. A developmental edit does not address style, grammar, and/or punctuation. Because of the intense time commitment and amount of work this requires, this is often the most expensive form of editing. Developmental editing is the least common form of editing and not usually recommended unless the author is having major issues during the book’s drafting.

Content Editing

Content editing is similar to developmental editing, only it occurs after the novel is drafted. During a content edit, the editor will examine all elements of the novel: plot, subplot, character development, story structure, narration/description, word repetition, stylistic details, etc. Essentially, anything related to the novel’s content is addressed at this stage. Depending on the content editor, she may point out issues related to grammar, but that is not the primary focus of a content edit. Again, because of the time and large-scale criticism this type of content editing involves, it is usually rather expensive. Content editing is recommended mainly for first time or new authors who are still learning the basics of writing craft.

Edit: As many authors noted in the comments, beta readers can provide content editing (for free). Read this post for more on finding/using beta readers.

Line Editing

Line editing and copy editing are rather similar. Some editors consider them synonymous; others differentiate between them. In essence, line editing is the form of editing in which grammar becomes involved. A line editor will address a novel’s grammar, sentence structure, and punctuation. Typically, a line editor will also offer advice on the author’s writing style, and at his discretion, may comment on a few larger scale issues, such as story line or character development. This is an extremely common form of editing for indie authors to utilize and comes with a middle range price tag.

Copy Editing

Again, copy editing is similar to line editing. A copy editor will correct grammar and punctuation errors. However, a copy editor does not typically advise on sentence (re-)structuring or writing style. Of course, at her discretion, a copy editor may comment on broader issues with the novel, but this is not likely. Like line editing, this is a common form of editing for indie authors and comes with a middle range price tag.


Proofreading is the most “basic” form of editing. A proofreader corrects typographical errors related to capitalization, spelling, punctuation, and basic grammar. Most of the time, a proofreader will not comment on anything outside of these errors, but again, more intensive editing is at her discretion. Proofreading is generally the cheapest form of editing.

Because of its “basic” nature, proofreading is very dangerous. Many indie authors feel that they can skip over proofreading, in favor of doing it themselves. After all, why pay someone to do what spell check can do? Industry professionals (and even amateurs like me) strongly advise against this. It is extremely difficult to see one’s one errors, especially after one has already written, read, revised, edited, re-written, re-read one’s book so many times. At the very least find a friend or fellow writer with strong grammar skills and who is an avid reader to do the proofreading for you.

Of course, as with any industry, there are other forms of editing and other definitions of these five types. However, these are the most common types of editing and, in my opinion, good stock-standard definitions of them. Indie authors, feel free to chime in below with the types of editing you recommend to your peers and any other forms I may have missed.

For more on how to find an editor or editing company (including how I found mine), read 10 Ways to Find Editing Services on a Budget.


Kate M. Colby is an author of science fiction, fantasy, and nonfiction. When she is not writing or working, Kate enjoys playing video games, antiquing, and wine tasting. She lives in the United States with her husband and furry children.

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Posted in Author Business & Publishing, Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips
33 comments on “Which Kind(s) of Editing Does Your Novel Need?
  1. rachelbohlen says:

    This is an incredibly helpful breakdown! When I was looking into this with my first book, I panicked and thought, “I must need EVERY kind of editing, because I have no idea what I’m doing.” It took me many deep breaths and contemplation to realize that developmental editing wasn’t really appropriate for me, that it needed copy editing before proofreading, etc. The only thing I would add (apologies if you have touched on this in a previous post) is that I would recommend having someone beta read it before sending it off to an editor, even if it’s just a friend or your significant other, so you are sure you’re getting the right services. Maybe the novel does need content editing, but we, as the authors, might not realize that until an independent person reads it and says, “So, this part of the story doesn’t make any sense.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Rachel! I definitely agree that sending your novel to beta readers or critique partners before a professional editor is an incredibly helpful step. I don’t believe I have written a post on beta readers yet. Now that I have gone through the beta reader process myself, I may post something after a bit. Once again, you’ve given me another great post prompt!

      Liked by 1 person

      • amo says:

        Yes, I agree on the beta readers. I think for a lot of indies, a good beta reader (or four or five) takes the place of content editing, and a literary-inclined good friend or family member off whom you can bounce your story ideas is your developmental editor. My second book, Cat and Mouse, had its ending changed because of what my husband said, and then some chapters totally shuffled around because several betas commented that the first third of the story was really slow. With beta readers, you want as many as you can get, then pool their feedback and act on common consensus (with my current edit, I know I have to change the first chapter because every single beta so far said it was confusing).

        As far as copy/line edits/proofreads, getting an editor who knows what they’re doing is crucial. My editor, Jennifer Ballinger, has taught me a whole lot about grammar and punctuation that I didn’t know before (and I’m a language nerd who’s proofread for other people), so the money I spend on her editing is well worth it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Amo – other comments taken care of. And for some reason it won’t let me reply to your comment directly (too many levels, perhaps).

        I agree that beta readers can be a huge help. My one caveat would be that I don’t know if they should always take the place of a content editor for new authors. I know that, while my beta readers were all fantastic, having a thorough content edit has done wonders for my writing craft. After a few more books, I probably won’t go for the content edit anymore, but at this beginning stage in my career, I am so grateful that I did. My cocky side told me I didn’t need to (I have a BA in Creative Writing), but I am so glad I didn’t listen to it. Again, though, that’s just me!

        Liked by 1 person

      • amo says:

        Yes, I agree, actually. I always ask my editor to keep an eye out for content issues, and if she feels any need for major work, to stop and let me know so I can fix it before she goes on with the copy edits.
        I would like to hear more about your content editing process. Do you mind sharing who your editor is?

        Liked by 1 person

      • I went through Red Adept Editing. They have a team of editors. I’m not sure if I can share the individual name publicly, as they like to keep all attributions to the company as a whole as opposed to crediting individual editors.

        Liked by 1 person

      • amo says:

        Eh, thank you for that hint. I took a look at their website, and they look excellent! Always good to get another suggestion for services.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve loved my experience so far. Once I finish with my content edit, I plan to do a post about that experience. I’m also planning to do line editing and proofreading through them, so I will discuss those experiences after they happen as well.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Rachel for your thoughts & admissions. I have gone through that panic mode so many times with my ms and even now that the book is out that I wonder if I should have my heart checked just to be sure no damage has been done! Even though a dear friend proofread & edited it (when all I had asked for was a read!), I still thought I needed to have all these types of edits. Luckily, a kind author heard the fear in my voice and took me under his wing. Although we haven’t met in person, I continue to run into him all over the net.
      Thank God for the kindness of strangers! That’s been my motto for many years, but I have never been more grateful than I was when my book was finally published in a state that I can feel proud of!
      Peace to you all!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Galit Balli says:

    Nice breakdown 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Kate Evans says:

    Great post as ever Kate. I think a lot of the initial developmental editing can be done with the help of trust-worthy critical readers (who are also writers and not related to you), but copy-editing and proofreading needs the input of a professional. Reading and being a critical reader for others can help you sharpen your own critical sense for your own work too, but it is a challenge not to either rubbish everything or think it’s all great! Whatever, even ‘indie’ writers can’t do it alone.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for adding your thoughts, Kate! I agree with you that developmental editing can be done with the help of other writers. Personally, I really like bouncing ideas off of other writers and even people I trust who fall into my target audience. And you’re right – the term may be “indie” or “self” publishing, but it cannot be done alone!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. My critique group and beta readers served some of these roles for me. By the time my editor (I went traditional: small press) got a hold of the book, many of these issues had already been addressed.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s great! Finding other writers/readers who are willing to help you fine tune your work is always helpful. Plus, I know I like to have my draft at least a little polished before I let a professional see it (lest I be totally embarrassed by errors that should have been obvious!).

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Ula says:

    Great and useful article, Kate. I think beta readers can do wonders, but personally I wouldn’t forgo a professional copy edit and professional proofreading. Editors and proofreaders do it for a living, therefore have a trained eye. I’ve been doing editing and proofreading for about 8-9 years now, and here’s the strange part, I can spot other’s mistakes, but I often miss my own. I can finally notice them after several months of abandonment when the material no longer seems my own.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for sharing your professional insights, Ula! I agree – professional editing/proofreading is a must. I fancy myself a rather “clean” writer, but my content editor caught several mistakes I was entirely blind to. I can only imagine what my proofreader will find!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Reblogged this on sherriemiranda1 and commented:
    Thanks Kate, this is very important to know & understand. I almost hired editors for the first two types of edits when what I needed was the 3rd or 4th type of edit. Thank God, some kind soul took the time to explain it to me. No all of us are that lucky though! 😉 ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  7. […] BEFORE YOU BEGIN: Determine your budget and which kind(s) of editing your book needs […]


  8. […] the comments section of my post about the different types of editing authors need, many authors chimed in about the value of beta readers as a first line of editorial defense. A few […]


  9. […] I think I will have done about all I can do for the first go-round. At this point, I will hire a professional editor and send my manuscript out to a handful of beta readers. Hopefully, these individuals will catch […]


  10. […] is that you must determine which types of editing your book needs. I discuss editing types more in this post, but the three main types […]


  11. […] my posts Which Kind(s) of Editing Does Your Novel Need? and 10 Ways to Find Editing Services on a Budget, some of you asked who I use for editing and how […]


  12. Problem is to find a good editor at a good price but that is another struggle. :/

    Thanks for the post.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. theryanlanz says:

    Per our permission arrangement, I’ve added this post as a guest article on my blog, scheduled for Sept 17th. I look forward to it! : )

    Liked by 1 person

  14. theryanlanz says:

    Or at least, you gave permission for that particular post. Am I still okay to randomly feature more of your future posts? I’ll always let you know which after scheduling.

    Liked by 1 person

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