Levels of Editing

There are no levels of editing per say. However, there are industry-accepted stages of editing that I’ll outline here. Of course, the processes in publishing vary, not every manuscript will go through every stage. It depends on the book, genre, publishing house.

There are also major differences between fiction and non-fiction: often non-fiction books are commissioned. A commissioning editor does a structural edit bringing content into form; the edit shapes a book that doesn’t quite exist yet. Unless you’re willing to send a good penny of editing you should learn to do some editing yourself.

Beta read or manuscript evaluation

This type of editing is a reader’s response to the manuscript. These evaluations include feedback authors might get from a writing critique group and cover big picture items, such as major plot holes or character flaws. I get into what is and isn’t working in the story. For beta reads, I write a two to three page report. A manuscript evaluation is more in-depth and runs to nine or ten pages with more detailed feedback.

Content editing

A content editor should provide you with a paragraph-level set of markups on your manuscript, offering corrections, pointing out incomplete sections, and offering advice on smoothing the flow and construction of your chapters, sections, and subsections. A content editor will tell you if your speed is compatible with your genre.

A key focus for a content edit should also be the tone and voice of your manuscript. A content editor should be aware of your target audience to ensure that the way your content comes off (tone) is a good fit for that audience, and that the writing sounds like you (voice). They help refine your language for your intended audience.

The key difference between a content edit and a line edit (two terms that are often used interchangeably) is that a content edit is not as detailed as a line edit. It exists between the high-level view of a developmental or evaluation edit, and the ground-level view that a line editor takes as they work through each line of your manuscript.

Evaluation editing

(Also called: manuscript critique or structural edit.)

Usually, at this point the author has a finished manuscript but is struggling to find agents or publishers. With an evaluation edit, a professional editor looks at your manuscript to assess structure, flow, completeness, and overall quality. The editor will usually provide you with a short memo that summarizes their key points, areas of concern, and suggestions for your book.

What stage is this in the publishing process? For fiction this can happen before or after acceptance for publication. With commissioned non-fiction titles it happens as the editor writes it or after the first draft.

Line editing and copy-editing

Here I’ll present a slightly unpopular opinion: I believe line editing and copy-editing are two separate jobs. (Also called: stylistic edit or comprehensive edit.)

Line editing comes before copy editing. Where line editors are concerned primarily with questions of style, copy editors are concerned with mechanics. A copy editor ensures that the language in a manuscript follows the rules of standard English and adheres to the house style guide.

In a copy-editing, the goal is to make a manuscript adhere to a style, to correct punctuation and grammar, to ensure accuracy and clarity, to query facts or unclear statements, make sure the tone is appropriate for the audience and check that references and citations are in order. It’s very much the nitty-gritty aspects of writing.

rewrite edit text on a typewriter. Levels of Editing

During a line edit, I work more with the language and tone and flow; it’s more about how the text sounds and feels. I ask myself, is it nice to read? I have copy-edited manuscripts that could have benefited from a line edit. However, the author wanted it that way, and in the end, it’s the authors choice. Every editor repeats our (unspoken) motto: ‘It’s not my book’.

What stage is this in the publishing process? When a book is going through a line-edit, then copy-edit, it has already been developmentally edited, has been accepted for publishing, or the author is ready to self-publish.

Self-Editing Stages

Developmental editing

Look at your dramatic structure, world building and character development. Often the story doesn’t meet readers’ or genre expectations (usually plot beats). When I do this type of editing to clients, it typically results in a twenty-plus page report plus heavy commenting in the text.

  • Passive Voice
  • Adverb and adjective abuse
  • Varying sentence structure
  • Messy dialogue tags
  • Overshowing
  • Filtering
  • Echoing (repeated words, crunch)
  • Info-dumping
  • Purple prose: Purple prose is flowery and ornate writing that makes a piece of text impenetrable. It features long sentences, multi-syllabic words, excessive emotion, and a plethora of clichés. It’s typically melodramatic and often too poetic.


Once the book has been typeset and made into proofs, a proofreader looks for any typographic errors made during the typesetting process or for errors that the copy editor, managing editor or author missed along the way. They’re looking for anything that might be called a mistake in the final print. Proofreaders are the final pair of eyes on the text before it goes to press; it’s a vital job with a high level of responsibility.

What stage is this in the publishing process? This is the last and final editing stage!

These are the different stages of editing, which are useful to know as every house may call it something different. It’s always good to ask if you’re not sure. A word of caution for anyone working with self-publishing authors: they don’t always know the stages a manuscript goes through in-house, so if you hear them ask for ‘just a proofread’, they may not be aware of exactly what they need.

Page proofs (making sure there are no remaining typos on the ‘ready to print’ digital pages)

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