While some editors may define the types of professional editing in slightly different ways, I prefer the following definitions for fiction:
- Copy Editing – Primarily the editing of grammar and punctuation.
- Line Editing – Addresses the art and craft of prose, including paragraph and sentence structure and flow, voice, style, readability, and forward movement. Some line editors work at the scene level.
- Developmental Editing – Addresses the art and craft of storytelling, including story structure, plot, character arcs, story logic, theme, symbolism, pacing, etc. In the case of fiction, it includes an evaluation of a manuscript in which the editor identifies narrative weaknesses and suggests additions, deletions, and revisions. Generally, a developmental editor’s goal with a fiction manuscript is to make sure the story:
- Has a logical, coherent plot, sub plots, character arc(s), etc.
- Meets genre specifications
- Properly conveys backstory
- Uses a consistent style or voice
Please note that different developmental editors may define this in slightly different ways. Please always clarify with any editor you work with. Also note that a developmental editor typically does not also line or copy edit the same book because once you have worked intensely and intimately with a manuscript, copyediting it is very difficult.
- Substantive Editing – Similar to developmental editing (some editors use the terms interchangeably), but involves more coaching and exchanges with the writer. Particularly in non-fiction or academic writing, this may include some rewriting by the editor.
Note: with the possible exception stated under substantive editing, editors do NOT “change your book” or “chop it up” or any other of the dramatic phrases I’ve heard over the years. Editors provide suggestions for improvement that YOU choose to accept—or not. But remember, an editor makes those suggestions from a place of knowledge (education and experience—ask for credentials prior to hiring!). If you decide to ignore your editor’s suggestions, do so from a place of logic—not emotion. In fact, it’s a best practice to make a note about why you made that decision.