Developmental editing, copyediting, proofreading?
A new author may ask about the difference between copyediting and proofreading. Their confusion increases when their online research reveals additional terminology. Line editing? Developmental editing? Substantive editing?
I’ll help you to understand it a little easier: 1) a few of these types of editing are almost interchangeable, and 2) which one you need depends on where you are in the process.
I offer book clients 3 services: developmental editing, copyediting, and proofreading.
Developmental (or substantive) editing
Stage of publication: You’re done writing your book but may need help with the structure, the plot, the story arc, etc. Do the characters need more fleshing out? Does the dialogue need work? Is there too much cliché?
A developmental editor can help you see whether the story arc or the resolution are solid or if some areas need filling in or rewriting.
Writing a book is no small thing, and going through a developmental edit can require a thick skin. Keep an open mind, and never reject a suggestion just to avoid more writing. If you want your book to sell, that extra writing may be needed. But how much you want to change is ultimately up to you.
Copyediting or line editing
Stage of publication: Between developmental and proofreading stage. You feel your book is complete. Maybe you’ve paid for a developmental edit, or you’ve had several friends read the book. You’ve spellchecked it and gone through it yourself several times.
When I copyedit, I look at the grammar, spelling, punctuation, word usage, conformity to style, and a few other things. I’ll look at whether sentences are clear and scenes make sense. Is a character wearing different clothes in a situation where they’ve had no opportunity to change? Is a character red-headed in one scene and brunette in another? Are all the names spelled consistently? I’ll usually do light fact checking during my copyedit, too.
Copyediting is meant to catch as many errors as possible but it is not the final stage. Errors can be introduced when fixing other mistakes, or during formatting. That’s why proofreading is needed before publication.
Stage of publication: Final version of the book—copyedited, corrected, and, ideally, formatted. Proofreading is a very close look at every word and every sentence. The proofreader is not looking to fix the plot, characters or dialogue, but at remaining spelling and grammar errors, spacing and punctuation errors, or misused words.
Still not sure which service?
If you are not sure which of these stages applies to you and your book, feel free to email (firstname.lastname@example.org) your questions and I’ll be happy to help.