An Author's Guide to the 4 Types of Editing

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There is much confusion amongst the writing community about what each type of editing service really means, and if you don’t know what to ask editors for, you may inadvertently waste your time and money.

First, know that while the following definitions are consistent with the general consensus, every editor’s service may still vary slightly. It’s always wise to have each editor you contact 1) define what they include in their different editing services and 2) provide a free sample.

Second, it’s important to know the specific order that the different edits should be performed. Otherwise, you will be throwing away money.

Below are definitions for the four types of book editing services, and they are listed in the order of which service should be done first, second, third, and fourth. While not all four editing services are needed for every book, copy editing should never come before developmental editing, proofreading never before line editing, etc.

Developmental Editing

I like to call developmental editing the “big picture edit,” though it’s more of a revision. Our books never turn out how we hoped after writing the first draft. The developmental edit is our chance to change as much of the story as we want (or need) so that we actually have a good book in our hands.

You’re revising plot, characters, settings, scenes, description, and dialogue. You’re deleting chapters, filling in plot holes, and redirecting a character’s goals. This focuses on your story, not the technical stuff.

Some indie authors will do this step on their own, some get several beta readers, and some pay a developmental editor.

Estimated price range for 70,000 words: $2,000-$5,000*

Line Editing

Zooming in a little, we have line editing. This focuses more on how the story was written. Instead of focusing on story, line editing focuses on writing.

Line editing is rewriting and rearranging paragraphs and sentences to tell your story in the best way. That could mean using two words instead of seven, filling in gaps of description, or leaving feedback on areas you still need to revise. Many editors will also include grammar, spelling, and punctuation edits in this service.

Estimated price range for 70,000 words: $900-$2,500*

Copy Editing

Now, we get into the more technical side of editing. Copy editing focuses on grammar, spelling, punctuation, and style. Though it is the “rule” side of writing, it is no less important than making sure your characters are unique or your plot gripping. Without the technical aspects done right, your manuscript could be too difficult for your readers to follow or too much work for a publisher to invest in.

It also makes sure that the writing is concise, consistent, cohesive, and clear, but don’t think that means you’re getting a line edit. Copy editors will not rewrite your paragraphs, but they may offer the occasional rewrite on a sentence or leave feedback to make sure your book meets those four Cs.

Estimated price range for 70,000 words: $600-$1,200*


This is the final check before a book gets published just to make sure it’s ready to go. This is an edit often skipped by authors on a budget. But if you can afford it, your book will always benefit from one more edit just like your “clean” house can still benefit from tidying up before guests come over.

This can happen only after a book has been copy edited and no more revisions will be made to the book. Proofreading focuses only on grammar, spelling, and punctuation (and sometimes minor style choices).

Estimated price range for 70,000 words: $500-$800*

Which Editing Service Do You Need?

Here are three questions to ask yourself when determining which editing services you need:

1. How confident am I in my story?

If you are an experienced writer, are really good at plot, characters, and description, or don’t want your story to change, you may be able to skip developmental editing and perhaps even line editing (though every writer can really benefit from both of those edits).

If you don’t like your story as it stands or just know you want help improving your story, developmental editing would be a great place to start.

2. What do my beta readers say about my story and writing?

If you have raving reviews from several different beta readers, you may not need one of the big picture edits. Consequently, if your beta readers find your plot or characters lacking, developmental editing would be worth looking into before you move on to copy editing.

3. What is my total editing budget?

Editing is not the cheapest thing you’ll spend money on this month, but it is an investment that will pay off. However, an editing budget is an important thing to determine before you start paying editors.

If you find that you don’t have enough budget dollars for all of the editing services you want, you will have to decide whether or not to forgo one of the edits or hold off until you’re able to save some money to increase the budget.

I encourage authors to invest in the biggest editing service that they need and can afford. For example, invest in the developmental editing, and while you wait for your editor to get back to you and while you work through the revision, you can be saving up for the next editing service.

Ready to Hire an Editor?

Make sure you know what to look for in an editor and what questions to ask (and what answers to look for) before signing a contract or paying the invoice. You can learn more by reading “How to Hire the Right Editor for Your Book.”

When you are ready to query authors, I would be happy to talk to you about my editing services and how I can help you refine your manuscript into a book your readers can’t put down. Send me an email if you’re ready for a quote or just want to chat.

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*Price ranges listed are a general idea of the average range. Actual prices will vary depending on the editor’s experience/skill and availability, how fast you need it edited, and how much editing your particular manuscript needs.