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Descriptions of types of editing

There are no hard lines to draw between the different types of editing. It’s all of a piece (which is this page is titled simply Editing ).  Just how much of what kind of editing I do depends upon what you’re looking for and what you need.


Some people call this line editing, but the definitions of the two terms blur when you ask different editors. Typically, copyediting focuses primarily on grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Line editing goes beyond to encompass syntax, style, sometimes paragraph structure or chapter flow. In my experience, it’s all part of the same process. How much of one or the other really depends on the state of the prose and the author’s goals. I follow your lead and strengthen your style, work for consistency of voice, but how much I do varies.

Before I start, we discuss what kind of editing you’re seeking.

What you get at the end is the manuscript document in Microsoft Word format with track changes enabled, which shows you everything I did. I also include comments to explain a suggestion or alert you to a potential problem.

Unless you already have one, I create a stylesheet that documents some of the editing decisions and stylistic conventions followed in the manuscript. (If you already have a stylesheet from a previous edit or the editor of another book, please do share it with me. We don’t want to be spending time and money reinventing the wheel.)

I generally prefer to work on a fixed bid for copyediting work. This reduces uncertainty. I review the entire manuscript to come up with the number. Before then, with some sample pages in hand, I can work up an estimated cost.

Substantive editing

In substantive editing, I start with the big-picture perspective, looking at character development, story structure, main tension, emotional engagement, world building, continuity, themes, writing style, and so on. From there, I go chapter by chapter through the manuscript, suggesting edits and providing detailed notes.

This is the most hands-on intensive editing I do. What I focus on includes:

  • Dramatic tension. Does the story have a rhythm that builds reader anticipation?
  • Character development. Often a problematic area of the story can be because a piece is missing or underdeveloped in the character wants and needs.
  • World building. This applies especially in science fiction, fantasy, and historical fiction.
  • Story structure.
  • Scenes / chapters / sequences that aren’t working and deflate the main tension, block the plot, sidetrack the focus.
  • Complementary story lines and subplots, and how effectively they interweave with main story.
  • Continuity. She had red hair on page 12, but it’s blonde two hours later on page 26. What happened to the knife he put in his pocket?
  • Light fact checking. Did that model radio exist in that year?
  • Does the ending work?
  • Missed opportunities.
  • Opportunities to cut.

Whether you want substantive editing is something we discuss ahead of time. We decide together how deep you would like me to go, and I work up a fixed bid from that.

Developmental Editing

Developmental editing is basically substantive editing but without line edits. I stay out at the big-picture level, looking at the same kind of issues as in substantive editing, and I write up for you an analysis and recommendations for things to focus on in rewrites.