types of editing

Types of Book Editing (with Examples)

One of the first decisions authors need to make when hiring a book editor is deciding between the various types of book editing available. There are many types of editing for novels, including developmental editing, line editing, and proofreading.

A strong editing process includes multiple types of book editing, working from story-level editing to prose-level editing. But the exact types of editing services you need depends on factors including your manuscript’s history, your publication goal, and your budget.

To help give you a starting place, let’s explore some common types of editing and the order you should pursue them. Note that terminology is not completely standardized across the industry, so always confirm the scope of work with your editor. The definitions below reflect those of the services available from Blue Pen.

Developmental Editing​

Perfect for: An author who is prepared to invest the time, energy, and money to make sure their story is the best it can be and who is willing to make deep revisions if necessary.

See an example developmental edit letter here.

Perfect for: An author who is prepared to invest the time, energy, and money to make sure their story is the best it can be and who is willing to make deep revisions if necessary.

Developmental editing is a type of high-level editing, which simply means that it focuses on the story aspects (characterization, plot, structure, etc.) rather than the prose.

​The definition and scope of developmental editing varies widely, but at Blue Pen, this service includes:

  • heavy in-text comments
  • a detailed edit letter analyzing the manuscript’s strengths and weaknesses and presenting an action plan for improvement
  • a one-hour call to discuss the notes

Other names for developmental editing include content editing and substantive editing.

This type of editing can be a game changer for your book. A skillful developmental editor will point out problem areas and present solutions that you may be too close to the work to identify.

As an author, you should work to incorporate developmental feedback creatively and in a manner that aligns with your vision for the work.

Developmental editing should always happen before any type of low-level editing. Unless you pursue a manuscript critique, which is another type of high-level editing, the developmental edit should happen first.

This is crucial because developmental editing often results in broad, sweeping changes to the manuscript. Chapters are cut, added, and rewritten. If you were to pursue prose-level editing first, you would be wasting both time and money by polishing prose that is cut or rewritten during the developmental stage.

Manuscript Critique

Perfect for: An author who isn’t quite sure their story-level elements are up to par but doesn’t want to invest as deeply as a developmental edit would require.

See an example manuscript critique here.

A manuscript critique, also called a manuscript evaluation, is another high-level form of editing. For a deep evaluation of your high-level elements, you can choose to pursue a manuscript critique before your developmental edit.

Like developmental editing, the manuscript critique should occur before any prose-level editing, such as line editing or proofreading.

A manuscript critique explores the same elements as developmental editing. However, it is less in-depth and therefore less expensive. The cost of a critique is often a third of that of developmental editing.

At Blue Pen, a manuscript critique includes only a written report detailing the work’s strengths and weaknesses, with an action plan for improvement. The report is typically shorter than a developmental edit letter and emphasizes the identification of problem areas, rather than potential solutions. A critique does not include in-text comments or a phone session.

​A manuscript critique is a good option for writers who need an affordable service and for those who aren’t sure what their next steps should be. A critique provides a road map to help you navigate the next steps of your editing process.

Line Editing

Perfect for: An author who is absolutely certain their story’s plot, structure, and characterization are strong and is ready to improve their manuscript’s prose.

See a line editing example here.

Line editing is a low-level type of editing, meaning it involves changes at the sentence level. This type of editing should occur after the high-level elements are settled. So if you intend to pursue developmental editing or a manuscript critique, do so before seeking line editing.

As far as terminology, things begin to get foggy here.

The difference between line editing and heavy copyediting is not completely standardized, so writers should discuss the scope with their editor and ensure they are on the same page. If you have any questions about the scope of the edit, most editors will be willing to provide a brief sample edit.

At Blue Pen, line editing involves adjustments to the prose for clarity, concision, consistency, and correctness.

Line editing eliminates ambiguity and redundancy, while highlighting the manuscript’s unique voice. Especially when line editing fiction, line editing involves creativity and requires subjective decisions. The editor must weight the options regarding each change.

For example, the editor may decide to let stand a sentence structure that could have been rendered more concisely if the construction aligns with the manuscript’s voice.

When working with fiction, specifically, an editor may not conform completely to formal stylistic and grammatical rules if they impede readability or conflict with the overall tone of the work.

As you can tell, there are many considerations related to line editing. But a solid line edit is one of the most important passes to bringing a manuscript up to a professional, publishable level.

If you pursue only two types of editing, consider a developmental edit and a line edit. You will see a vast improvement in the work.


Perfect for: An author who has solidified their manuscript from the story to the prose and wants to make sure the work is clean and free of errors before publication.

See a proofreading example here.

Proofreading comprises the final pass to a manuscript. Proofreaders address objective errors, including typos and punctuation issues.

A proofread should take place after line editing or copyediting. A proofread should not be performed on a manuscript that has yet to undergo low-level editing. And most proofreaders will not take on manuscripts that are not clean enough for this final pass.

Choose the best types of book editing for your goals.

At Blue Pen, we have found an editing process that includes developmental editing, line editing, and proofreading to be effective and efficient for the majority of authors. But that doesn’t mean it’s perfect for every author or every manuscript. That’s why we make our editing process customizable with a la carte book editing services.

Before deciding on your process, it’s important to evaluate both your manuscript and your goals. Do you plan to self-publish your book? In that case, you should consider a full editing process that includes story-level and prose-level editing. On the other hand, you plan to query agents or submit to small presses, you may want to focus on story-level elements with a developmental edit or manuscript critique, since your manuscript will undergo more revisions and edits later.

The most important thing is that you find an editorial professional you trust, who can help guide you through the process.

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