Tools of the Editing Trade

Tools of the Editing Trade

What Authors Should Know about Editing and Editors:

Editing—you know your book requires it. But, where to start?

An introduction to the Strange World of Editing and the Beasts Who Inhabit It.”

Did you know that there are several types of editing? One size does not fit all.

Developmental Editing

Developmental editors are the top level of the editor beasts. This is because of the abstract and creative thinking required at the concept level of writing a work. Developmental editing is considered to be the most expensive type of editing.

Developmental editing consists of:

  • Taking a rough idea or proposal and developing it to a final manuscript that will move to the substantive editing level.
  • Taking a manuscript that is chaotic, but has a potential idea within it, and applying order to the chaos.
  • Coaching. Developmental editors are considered to be coaches for writers. The writer has an idea. The developmental editor coaxes the writer to develop it and make it compelling.
  • Almost as acting as a literary agent. Publishing houses will assign developmental editors to non-writers who they believe have market potential (such as celebrities, the latest diet creator, etc). Some developmental editors will invest time into writers who are “diamonds in the rough” via business partnerships.
  • Always keeping the Reader/Audience in mind (visit our link about finding audience). Developmental editors hone everything in the manuscript to that particular reader audience: voice, word choice, pacing, point of view, dialogue, setting, and so forth.
  • Finding literary agents, publishers, distribution and warehousing systems for the work-in-progress.

Substantive Editing

Substantive editing looks at the big overall picture of the manuscript. This type of editing is generally what is needed when authors say, “It just needs a quick look.” However, that is rarely the case. If you find that your requested manuscript keeps getting rejected, you may find that it requires substantive editing to take it to the next level and to overcome slush reader obstacles.

Substantive editing  consists of:

  • Reading the work in its entirety before any editorial changes are suggested.
  • Checking for consistency in voice, characterization, plot holes, shifts in point-of-view, pacing, sub-plots, story arc (or lack thereof), and other items that may cause readers to stumble.
  • Moving chapters or sections to improve the flow of the story-line. Or re-organization of the work at the paragraph, section, and chapter levels.
  • Ensuring that the author’s “world construct” holds.
  • Taking a completed manuscript to the next level of storytelling.
  • Changing characters to make them more like-able, or more despicable or just more interesting to readers.

Content Editing

Content Editing is “apple polishing” the entire manuscript line by line. Sections are no longer being moved about, plot-holes have been filled, characterizations are formed, and setting details worked out.

Content editing consists of:

  • Line-by-line editing for tone, tightening of phrases to “leave the boring bits out,” looking for dead sentence construction, passive voice, removal of unnecessary modifiers, and point-of-view lapses.
  • Maintaining the author’s voice while improving the sentence structure that will move the story forward.
  • Ensuring the continuity of story line. Removing any obstacles that would make the Reader stumble.
  • Moving the story and its readers along from one chapter to the next.
  • Most authors think that their works are ready for the Content/Copy Editing phase when their works could be made more competitive with substantive editing.

Copy Editing

Copy editing is what most writers think of when they hear the word “edit.” It is a very mechanical process that ensures that the publishing standards that readers have come to expect and appreciate are met.

Copy editing consists of:

  • Fact checking –especially with historical fiction.
  • Imposing the rules of the style guide that is required for the type of work (Chicago Manual of Style, AP Style Guide, etc.) and whether British Standard English or American Standard English is used for the galley.
  • Correcting faulty spelling, grammar and punctuation.
  • Standardization of linguistics (i.e.: Elf language, French slang, or Klingon) throughout the work.
  • Correcting misused words.
  • Using the correct spelling, hyphenation, numerals, and capitalization.
  • Parallel structuring of headings, chapter titles, and sequencing.
  • Checking for triteness, unnecessary uses of jargon, and clichés while keeping the author’s voice.


Proof-reading is best conducted by a “cold read.” This means that the proof-reader has not seen the work. A cold read makes it harder for the proof-reader to “fill in” any gaps or “auto-correct” the text. Writers should never perform the final proof on their own works. Fresh eyes are advised. It is practically impossible to proof your own work.

Proof-reading consists of:

  • Marking the typeset (whether digital or press) word for word against the final approved and edited manuscript.
  • Checking one more time for correct usage of dialogue quotation marks and punctuation.
  • Checking one more time for typos, double words such as: he he, or wrong word usage such as: sew, so.
  • Proofing the galley on different types of digital press software platform to ensure that it “translates” correctly and glitches are dealt with for each e-pub platform.
  • Checking for word spacing, paragraphing, “orphans and widows” (words and/or a sentence that appear by themselves on a page all alone), hyphenation and incorrect word breaks.
  • Re-checking for mislabeling, miss-numbering of pages (this happens all the time), and sequencing of chapters, prologues, epilogues, and glossaries.

The Final Word

Each type of editing has its specialists. Each level of editing becomes more focused on the details until the absolute final proof-reading for publication.

Editing professor Carolyn Dale explains the different types of editing services like this:

If you were remodeling your house you would not expect a sheet rocker to install plumbing, or an architect to hang sheet rock, or an electrician to create cabinetry, or the painter to create working plans.  However, you would expect them to be able to communicate with each other, schedule the work that needs to be done, and, ultimately, deliver a finished product with which you will be satisfied.  It is the same with editorial services.

Editing–every work needs it.

Our next post will be about how to determine the type of editorial services that your work requires and how to select an editor or editorial services company.