What Kind Of Editor Do You Need For Your Book?

What Kind Of Editor Do You Need For Your Book?

Every book needs editing. And if we’re being honest, editing your own work is nearly impossible. But don’t worry, this is where professional book editors come in!

Working with a good editor can help you take your book from good to great. And not only that, but a good editor can also help you improve your writing skills, which will probably save you time and money on your next project, too. 

Bad editors, on the other hand, can waste your time and money, and can even be a hindrance on your path to publication or to becoming a better writer.

So, when you’ve decided you want to work with a professional editor, how do you know what type of editor you need? 

The answer depends on where you’re currently at in the process. You need to work with the type of editor who is going to give you the right kind of feedback and help for where you’re currently at and where you want to go next.

So, let’s take a look at what each different type of editor does, and as we go through them, I’ll explain when the best time to work with each type of editor is—sound good?


What is a Developmental Editor?

A developmental editor (sometimes called a structural editor) is someone who looks at the “big picture” of your story. They are concerned with the overall content and structure of your manuscript, and whether or not your story “works.” 

To determine this, they will examine your story on a micro, scene-by-scene level, as well as the macro, global story level. And they will focus on things such as character development, story structure, plot, genre, theme, and point of view.

At the end of their analysis, they will provide an editorial letter that acknowledges everything that is working within your current manuscript, and outlines what is not working, while offering suggestions for revision.

Sometimes a developmental editor can act as a book coach, guiding you through the entire writing process from start to finish, but not all developmental editors offer this type of ongoing support, so you’ll want to double check if this is what you’re looking for. 

That being said, a developmental editor’s job is not to write or rewrite your story for you. If you’re looking for someone to do that, then you need to hire a ghostwriter.

So, when should you work with a developmental editor?

  1. You can work with a developmental editor when you have a new idea for a story, but you don’t know how to go about actually writing it. In this scenario, a developmental editor can help you plan and outline your story as well as guide you through the writing process on a scene-by-scene basis. These days, this type of ongoing support is often called book coaching, and you can learn more about that type of 1:1 support here.
  2. You can work with a developmental editor if you get stuck in the middle of a draft and can’t figure out how to move forward. In this scenario, a developmental editor can give you prescriptive and actionable feedback to help you get back on track and moving forward again with your work-in-progress. A book coach can also help you at this stage as well.
  3. You can work with a developmental editor when you have a finished (or nearly finished draft. In this scenario, a developmental editor will read through your manuscript and explain what’s working, what’s not working (and why), and recommend the next steps you can take to improve your story and become a stronger writer. This type of report is usually called an Editorial Assessment or a Manuscript Evaluation.

A developmental edit is the first stage of editing that all manuscripts should go through. It’s the most important part of the editing process, and unfortunately, it’s the one that gets skipped the most.

Working with a developmental editor on your messy first draft is a big investment, but it can (and will) save you money in the long run. Here’s what I mean by that… 

Imagine you spend a few thousand dollars to get your spelling and grammar fixed, and to get your sentences and paragraphs polished up. And then you query agents, but get nothing but rejections back. So, eventually, you end up going to a developmental editor for help, and that developmental editor tells you that your story doesn’t work on a fundamental level. So, then you have to rewrite and change all of those polished sentences and paragraphs, and this is so painful!

I have seen it happen to writers so many times, and it’s always so frustrating for them because they wish they had just started with a developmental edit. So, yes, getting a manuscript evaluation or working with a developmental editor will require an investment, but trust me, it will save you time, money, and energy in the long run!

Make sure that your story works—and that all those big-picture questions are answered—before you get your words polished by a line editor or a copy editor.

What is a Line Editor?

A line editor (sometimes called a stylistic editor) focuses on the way you use language to communicate your story to the reader. 

They will go through your manuscript line by line to make sure the voice and style of writing are consistent and will focus on things like awkward phrasing, unnecessary repetition, telling vs. showing, passive voice, dialogue, point of view, etc. They may suggest cutting or moving sentences or paragraphs, and they can even look for (and flag) any inconsistencies in your characters, settings, and the story’s timeline, too. 

A good line editor can do all of this while preserving the meaning, tone, and voice of the original text. 

It is not the job of a line editor to provide you with an overall analysis of the quality, structure, or pacing of the story. That’s what a developmental editor is for, so before you send your manuscript to a line editor, make sure your story works and delivers on your target readers’ expectations.

Once you’ve gone through a line edit (and made all the necessary changes to your story), you can reach out to a copy editor to tackle the next phase of story issues.

What is a Copy Editor?

A copy editor is someone who focuses on spelling, grammar, and punctuation. They will address commonly confused words (for example, affect vs. effect) as well as ensure consistency with capitalization, hyphenation, and numerals. 

This is often the last edit you will work through before your manuscript gets sent to publication, whether you’re indie publishing or traditional publishing. 

Not all editors provide copy editing services—this is a common misconception I come across in the writing community. Copy editing is its own skill and in an ideal world, you’d want to work through each phase of editing with an editor who specializes in that particular skill set.

Since you will likely pay for your copy edits by word or page count, I recommend getting your line edits done before moving onto copy edits. You’ll not only have a stronger, more cohesive draft to send your copy editor, but you’ll save money by having less words (or pages) to copy edit as well. 

Other Types of Book Editors

Now, those are the three main types of editors, but I often see some confusion in the writing community around proofreaders, beta readers, and acquisition editors, so let’s quickly cover those here as well.

  • Proofreaders look at your book once it’s been formatted for print or digital publication. They make sure that your copy editor’s notes have made it into the final version (or proof) of your story, and that the layout and pages numbers are correct. In short, their job is to make sure your book is as error-free as possible before it gets released to the public. 
  • A beta reader is a person who reads a work of fiction before it is published in order to mark errors and suggest improvements, typically without receiving payment. Working with beta readers is not the same as getting a comprehensive developmental edit, so I still recommend working with a developmental editor either before or after you contact beta readers.
  • Acquisition editors work for publishing companies. It’s their job to identify which manuscripts their publishing company should pursue, so they acquire stories that they think will sell well in the current marketplace. Your manuscript will have a better chance of impressing an acquisition editor if it’s gone through a comprehensive developmental edit first—you don’t have to put your story through a line edit and a copy edit before querying, but you may wish to if you know your line-by-line writing needs some help. If you want to self-publish, then you don’t need approval from an acquisition editor or a literary agent.

Now, let’s talk about how to choose the right editor for you and your story—because, let’s face it, there are many to choose from!

How to Choose the Right Editor for Your Book

No matter which type of editor you’re hiring, make sure you’re both clear on exactly what the editor will be providing. And don’t be afraid to ask questions to get to know the editor before committing to hiring them. 

Before you start looking for editors to work with, consider what you’re hoping to accomplish. Would you like to work with an editor on an ongoing basis, or just get their feedback once? Do you need help turning your idea into a working draft or do you just want feedback and suggestions for what to do next? Things like that.

Once you’re clear on your specific goals, here are questions you can ask any editor that you’re considering for hire:

  • What type of editing do you specialize in? Do you edit fiction or nonfiction?
  • Which genres do you have the most experience in? Which genres do you enjoy editing the most? Which genres do you like to read?
  • What's your editing background like? How long have you been editing for?
  • How does your editing process work? What makes it unique?
  • What makes you a good fit for my story? Why should I choose you?
  • What is the expected turnaround time? 
  • How will we communicate back and forth?
  • Will I be able to ask you questions once the initial edit is done?

You can also ask to see testimonials from previous clients if you think this will help you make your decision, too. Some editors even offer free sample edits so you can get a sense of their style and/or the type of editing they’ll be providing, too. So, don’t be afraid to ask if you don’t see it listed on an editor’s website!

Keep in mind that some editors provide all levels of editing, while others specialize in the style or depth of editing they do. There are even editors that prefer to work in, or specialize in, certain genres over others.

If an editor doesn’t understand the different types of editing, or if they can’t clearly explain the services they offer, keep looking. In many cases, you will know in your gut which editor is right for you, so don’t be afraid to trust your intuition while choosing.

Final Thoughts

A great editor is someone who shares your goal of making your story the best it can be. In most cases, your editor will want to do whatever they can to help you execute your vision, so try to think of them as a part of your team. Doing so will make the process more enjoyable and it will be easier to accept their feedback when it comes through. 

Working with an experienced book editor is one of the best investments you can make for your book and your writing career. If you approach the editing process with an open mind and a willingness to learn, you’ll fast track yourself to becoming a better writer.

👉 Let's discuss in the comments: Have you ever worked with an editor or a writing coach? What was your experience like? What advice would you give someone who’s on the fence about working with an editor? Do you have any reservations about hiring an editor? Let us know in the comments below!

Savannah is a developmental editor and book coach who helps fiction authors write, edit, and publish stories that work. She also hosts the top-rated Fiction Writing Made Easy podcast full of actionable advice that you can put into practice right away. Click here to learn more →