Different Editing Types

Not all editing is the same–there are multiple editing types with different terms and definitions. Developmental editing, content editing, substantive editing, copyediting, proofreading. The list is long and many writers, students, or business professionals looking for an editor don’t know the difference.

These different types of editing can be broken down into four categories: developmental/content editing, line/substantive editing, copyediting, and proofreading.

It is important to always check with a prospective editor their exact definitions of these terms. Some editors may combine the editing types differently or list them all separately. This categorization is simply a general overview, and you should always ensure you are on the same page as your editor.

Developmental or Content Editing

Developmental or content editing is the first step of editing and should happen during earlier drafts. It is where you focus on the overall content of the book. In developmental or content editing, the editor looks at how the book is developed: the character arcs, plots, themes, pacing, writing style, symbolism, timelines, world building, voice, etc. They make sure the story is cohesive and everything makes sense. This is where the editor breaks down the book’s content and ensures it functions as a fun, readable story.

Substantive or Line Editing

Substantive or line editing is the middle ground between developmental editing and copyediting. This happens after you have mostly finished your book, but there are a few remaining rough spots on the scene, paragraph, or sentence level. Editors will look at many of the same elements of developmental editing but in more specific sections than the overall book, such as characters, plots, pacing, exposition and description, etc.

Some editors consider substantive editing and developmental editing the same thing, but many also consider them as different editing categories. On the other hand, some editors may consider substantive editing (due to the sentence level work) to be similar to copyediting and combine the services. This is another reason to double check what your editor offers as part of their editing services.


Copyediting consists of grammar level edits and occurs after you have finished revisions from the developmental editing, substantive editing, or both. It focuses on sentences, words, and punctuation. Editors will refine, polish, strengthen, and tighten your sentences. They will bring your language and writing to life.

Some editors view line editing and copyediting as the same thing, or they will perform both services together. Again, if you are hiring an editor, make sure you know what that editor defines these terms as on their website so that you know what kind of editing service you will receive. Copyediting and line editing pair well, but not all editors will pair them.


This is the final and last edit of your work. It happens after you have completed all the different editing stages and have formatted the book for publishing (or submissions). Editors or proofreaders will look at the text and make sure there are no errors. No formatting mistakes, no double words, no extra spacing, no misspellings, no mixed up homonyms.

You should always proofread at the very end of the writing/editing process, even if your editor already did it. Proofreading is your last chance to catch any mistakes that were missed during earlier editing phases or occurred after those phases were completed. Each time a manuscript is passed through someone’s hands, changed, or opened, it increases the chance for errors to occur in the manuscript. So make sure you don’t skip on out proofreading, even if your copy editor was amazing.

Hiring an Editor

It’s always best to have someone else help you with editing, whether you use alpha and beta readers instead of hiring a developmental editor (I’d encourage you to do both) or only hire a copyeditor. An outside editor will be able to see and catch things you won’t.

If you already have a book deal with a publishing house or literary agent, then they will help you with the editing. Although, you will still need to perform self-editing in addition to working with these editors or agents.

If you are self-publishing or getting ready to query, having a professional opinion on your book will do wonders for your story. Identify what type of editing you need for your book and look for an editor that provides that particular service. Double check the editor’s services and editing type definitions. There’s nothing more frustrating than hiring an editor for one service and then receiving a different one due to misunderstanding.

Editing Your Own Work

Even if you work with an editor, you should perform all these types of edits on your own work. Simply hiring an editor and expecting them to do all the work is expensive, especially if you decide to change something already edited and need to rehire a particular service. Performing these edits yourself will help you develop your story and strengthen your writing.

Interested in tips for editing your own work? BDR has an editing resource guide to get you started and runs tips and tricks on our blog. Be sure to subscribe or follow BDR for future resources and tips!

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