Many authors struggle with their editors–largely because of communication failures. Some authors imagine that all editing is the same. To them, it is a matter of giving the editor your rough draft and getting back a masterpiece. This simplistic approach means that many authors are frustrated after paying an author hundreds of dollars but still seeing many errors in the text.

Much of this frustration comes from not understanding the various types of editing or not knowing what type your book needs. Most books require several layers of editing. These layers often overlap, but they are not the same. Let’s look at some of the most common forms of editing so you can be prepared to ask for the right kind.

Developmental Editing

Developmental editing includes working with the author to formulate a plan that takes an idea through a process that gives it clarity, structure, and writing objectives.  It can and should include preparation of a basic outline of the book and a writing schedule or plan. When I work with new authors, I often teach them to use tools like mind maps to organize their thoughts. We discuss the categories of information that belong together and the order in which the reader can best understand the content. I do not work with fiction authors at this point, but these writers need someone who is skilled with developing character arcs, plots, building suspense, and creating plot twists.

Substantive and structural editing

Ideally, your written work should not cause frustration or confusion. Substantive editing often includes careful editing that includes structural, stylistic or copy editing. Structural editing ensures a logical order and flow of the content to be sure your book is clear, concise, and easy to read. That requires a thorough examination of the whole manuscript at the sentence, paragraph, and chapter levels. Structural editing also makes sure your reasoning is solid and that your content moves forward in a logical flow.

Stylistic editing

Stylistic editing ensures that the author connects with his or her readers in many levels. Since each author has a unique voice, the editor should make sure that the same voice is present throughout the manuscript. The text should be clear, consistent, and easily readable by the target audience. It should make the book produces the emotional and intellectual impact that the author desires. That involves such apparently unrelated things as the reading level and the point of view. The objective is to have every sentence “sound” the way the author thinks, including dialogue or narrative passages.

Copy editing

Copy editing is what most authors request. When I do copy editing, I check the spelling, grammar, punctuation, and syntax. I try to be sure that I have structured the sentences for easy reading by the target group. I resolve apparent errors of fact and ensure that the content has the proper headings and subheadings. Unless requested, I do not do thorough re-writing or revision at this stage.


Proofreading is often mistaken for copy editing. However, it’s a separate process. Proofing takes place after editing and layout when the proofs are ready. That means proofreading should include the page layout as well as looking for typos, errors in page numbering, incorrect word breaks or line breaks, and the placement of images and tables. It should ensure that the table of contents accurately points to the correct pages.

Knowing the kind of editing that you need can help your editor satisfy your expectations. It can also be a help for getting to know the strengths and weaknesses of the editors you use. When you reach out to request editing, do not be surprised when I want to discuss the editing your project needs. That is also why I often request a copy of the manuscript before sending you a custom offer. If you would like to discuss the kind of editing needed by your manuscript, contact me at