What 3 Main Services Does a Book Editor Offer?

Ai generated image of watercolour book editor owl on four books from Pixabay

Book editors offer three main levels of editing, though they often crossover in some ways and can be called different names. Think of it as going from a satellite viewpoint to a bird’s-eye view to being on the ground with the worms!

  1. Developmental or Structural editing

This is the big picture edit. A developmental book editor will check that the story makes sense as a whole. They will look for a clear premise and ensure the story reaches reader expectations of the genre. This edit will uncover plot holes, inconsistencies and redundant parts that don’t move the story on. The character development is assessed along with structure or story arc, story beats, info dumps (telling not showing) and other elements. For non-fiction, it will assess the structure and coherence of the manuscript.

Another term is ‘substantive editing’ which involves rewriting or reordering to ensure the whole is cohesive.

The manuscript should be as polished as possible for this edit. There is nothing worse for slowing a read-through than text littered with tiresome typos and grubby grammar! However, the structure needs to be in place before drilling down into the syntax, punctuation, etc. because a structural or substantive edit may result (sadly, devastatingly, horrifyingly) in cutting scenes.

  1. Copyediting

Copyediting is a general term for editing a piece of text. By the way, we use the word ‘copy’ for text, as in ‘copywriting’ or ‘editorial copy’. It comes from the Latin word copiae that dates back to the 1300s meaning ‘an abundance of writing’. Fun fact!

Anyway, this edit examines the nuts and bolts of the manuscript. It looks at syntax, word choice, spelling, grammar, and punctuation and makes sure the writing conforms to conventions.

Line editing is another type of editing which overlaps with copyediting but looks even more deeply at the text, literally line by line, ensuring each word is effective and stylistically the best choice. This is where a sentence may be tightened up or rearranged to make more sense or swap out words that may have been used earlier in the paragraph. Line editing also looks at pace and flow.

Both line and copyediting check for consistency (in terms of spelling and style) and accuracy.

  1. Proofreading

This is also known as the last pass and is called ‘proof’ reading from when the proofs come back from the typesetter to be checked. A proofreader goes even finer than a line editor, checking for typos, orphan and widow words, etc. It also checks the formatting on the page, odd indents, margins, tables and graphs. This is not the time for changes or additions to text. This is last minute tweaking. It’s these details that are often missed on the screen. It takes a hard copy to pick up these errors. This is why it’s important to order a proof copy of your book before you hit publish.

Some book editors niche into one of these types of editing. For example, they may do manuscript assessments only or are solely proofreaders. As a copyeditor, I will suggest tightening of writing but will also make comments or queries if a scene doesn’t make sense, or there’s a plot hole or an implausible idea. If a solution is clear to me, I’ll offer that suggestion.

Having a book editor read your work with a critical eye is the most terrifying yet gratifying process. You will learn not only about grammar, punctuation and your weak points, but also about your own writing voice and style. If you are open to your editor, I guarantee you will become a much better writer, as well as a favoured client!


For more information on my services, send me a message here.

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