If you want to hire a freelance editor, then it can be difficult to know where to start, as there are so many types of fiction editing out there. There are three major types of fiction editing: “big-picture” editing, commonly known as developmental editing, sentence-level editing, and proofreading. Outside of those branches, there are also other types of service that aren’t necessarily “editing” as such, but are related – such as professional beta reading and feedback on material such as agent query letters and synopses.
Which type of editing is for you? Let’s go over each one, and when you might need it.
The different types of fiction editing explained
Developmental editing (or dev editing for short) is a broad term. Freelance editors tend to define it in different ways – which is why it can be so confusing! But all developmental editing addresses big-picture issues. This can include things like plot, characterisation, character relationships, world-building, stakes, conflict, and so on.
Most freelance editors who offer “developmental editing” as a service offer an editorial report alongside direct notes in the manuscript. But manuscript assessments and critiques fall under the umbrella of developmental editing, too. In those types of services, you only receive the editorial report. Some freelance editors do a very extensive report as part of an assessment or critique, so the two can be similar, depending on the editor you choose. The key difference is that in a manuscript assessment or critique, you won’t get the in-manuscript comments and guidance.
Developmental editing is also done at publishing houses. When an author lands a traditional book deal, the in-house editor will do some rounds of developmental work with the author. What form that takes really depends on the editor’s style and relationship with the author.
You can read more about developmental editing here.
When do you need a developmental edit or manuscript assessment?
You’ll have finished writing your manuscript at this point, and ideally you’ll have been through a round of self-editing, although it’s not unheard of for freelance editors to work on first drafts. An editor can work with you across multiple drafts until you’re completely happy with the story.
If you’re aiming for traditional publication, having an assessment or dev edit first can improve your odds of getting picked up by a literary agent. It’s by no means required, though. If you sign with an agent or publisher, they’ll likely work with you on some form of dev editing as well.
Sentence-level: Copyediting and line editing
Sentence-level editing can be split into two sub-sections: copyediting and line editing. Not all freelance editors distinguish between these two terms, though (as with dev editing, you’ll find that independent editors define their own services differently). Sometimes line editing may be called a heavy copyedit.
Copyediting is technical and consistency focused. It concentrates on finding and fixing errors in spelling, grammar, word choice, and continuity. It also ensures consistency and preps the work for formatting. A style guide is applied during a copyedit (a set of grammar, punctuation, spelling, and other rules to make a publication consistent).
Line editing (or heavy copyediting) may involve more stylistic elements the author needs extra help with, such as flow; sense and logic; passages that could read better; POV issues; transitions between scenes and chapters; and so on.
When do you need a copy or line edit?
Ideally, you should have been through multiple rounds of developmental editing, and made the foundations of your manuscript as strong as possible first. A copyeditor’s job isn’t to fix plot holes or broader story problems. So make sure your foundations are as good as they can be.
If you’re aiming for traditional publication, you don’t need to hire a copy or line editor. Authors who sign book deals have copyediting provided for them by the publisher. You might opt to have a line edit before you get a book deal if you’re particularly concerned about grammar and flow, but it isn’t needed.
Proofreading is the very last stage before a book is printed or published. A lot of authors think they need a final proofread or tidy-up, when what they really need is a copyedit or a line edit.
Proofreading always comes last. The proofreader is often the final person to see a book before it publishes. It can be done in Microsoft Word on a previously copyedited manuscript, or on a book that’s already been designed and laid out as a PDF file. It’s rarely done on paper these days.
This type of editing is more than just a quick read-through. It involves careful, meticulous attention to detail, and goes beyond just checking for a few typos. Proofreading focuses on grammar, consistency, continuity errors, checking page numbers and chapter headings, running heads (the book title and author name you see along the top of a book’s pages), illustrations, scene breaks, and more. Essentially, a proofreader checks for anything the copyeditor may have missed.
The proofreader works with what we call a style sheet, a document created by the copyeditor to track editorial decisions. That way, the proofreader can be sure they don’t override a decision the copyeditor made or introduce a mistake.
When do you need a proofread?
You should have ideally been through some stages of developmental editing. Your manuscript should have been copyedited before sending it on to a proofreader. You need to be ready to publish once the proofreading process is complete.
As with copyediting, if you’re aiming for traditional publication, you don’t need to hire a freelance proofreader. Authors who sign book deals have copyediting and proofreading provided for them by the publisher.
Other types of fiction “editing”
As I mentioned before, there are other types of fiction editing that aren’t “editing” in the traditional sense, but still fall under the editorial umbrella. This includes things like:
- Professional beta and alpha reading. Some editors offer this as a service. A professional beta read is essentially a short review of your work, to test whether it’s ready for publication. There are no direct edits.
- Critique partners. Writers may work with critique partners (who are other writers). This means they swap work and feedback to help each other improve.
- Book/writing coaching. A book coach can help you with the writing process and develop creative ideas with you. They can offer guidance, and provide feedback on your work.
- Mentoring. There are lots of mentoring schemes out there for writers (Bespoke Mentoring from Writers and Artists and WriteMentor are a few examples). The writer is paired with a mentor (usually a published author or a professional editor). Mentoring involves elements of dev editing, teaching, writing advice, feedback on a writer’s work, and support and encouragement.
- Submission materials. If you need help with submission material, such as an agent query letter, your opening chapters, or a synopsis, many editors offer advice, feedback, or direct edits to help authors traditionally publish.
I hope this post on the different types of fiction editing helped you figure out what’s available to you, and what type of edit you might need in future. If you’re ready to work with an editor, take a look at my editorial services or get in touch for a chat!