Everything an Author Needs to Know About Line Editing

Doug Landsborough
March 1, 2024

When it comes to writing a great story, sometimes the hardest part is making your words sound… good. Seriously, it’s easier to come up with epic fantasy worlds and steamy romance stories than it is to artfully craft prose that readers froth over.

But do you wanna know a secret? All of your favorite authors have help getting those words right.

That’s because they all either work with or have worked with line editors in the past and use what they’ve learned to become expert wordsmiths. Not that I’m trying to undersell the skill of any author, mind you—we all do this because we love writing those riveting tales—but to highlight that there is external, professional help out there you can leverage.

That’s where line editing comes in. In this article, we’re going to discuss exactly what this kind of editing is, the key elements of it, the line editing process, and what it’s like working with this kind of editor.

And, by the time we’re done, you’ll be ready to power up your prose and hang with the best authors out there.

What is Line Editing?

Take it from me, a humble editor: it can be difficult to wrap your head around all the different kinds of editing. Most folks grow up thinking an editor is either someone who fixes spelling and grammar errors or someone who works for a publisher to help authors improve their books.

Line editing falls somewhere in between those two ends of the spectrum, but it’s just as important.

Defining Line Editing

Line editing is a very qualitative style of editing, focusing on the use of language to convey your story with clarity, fluency, and style. Line editing zeroes in on the finer details of writing, examining each sentence and paragraph to ensure they are well-constructed, clear, and effectively contribute to the overall story.

The power of line editing lies in its nuanced approach to refining an author’s voice. It's about enhancing the rhythm and pace of your writing, improving readability, and ensuring that your prose jives with your intended audience. 

Line editing scrutinizes word choice, sentence structure, coherence, and style, which are arguably the most difficult things for authors to master.

Line Edit vs. Other Editing Types

To appreciate the value of line editing, you need to be able to differentiate it from other stages of the editing process. Here’s a brief overview:

  • Developmental editing focuses on the manuscript as a whole, addressing structural issues, plot holes, character development, and other big-picture elements.
  • Copy editing ensures correctness, consistency, and completeness, addressing grammar, punctuation, spelling, and syntax, but without the in-depth focus on style and flow that characterizes line editing.
  • Proofreading is the final stage before publication, concentrating on catching lingering errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation, along with formatting inconsistencies.

Line editing sits uniquely within this spectrum, combining aspects of both creative and technical refinement. 

In practice, line editing involves a meticulous, line-by-line examination of your manuscript. The goal is to make the writing as strong as possible by enhancing clarity, eliminating redundancy, and ensuring that each word serves a purpose.

Key Elements of Line Editing

Is line editing an art form? I’d say so, but I’m biased. If you want to break it down into its more technical elements, though, you might get a better understanding of what this kind of editing has to offer.

At the core of all of this, a line editor addresses the intricacies of language and ensures each one of your sentences serves a purpose… while fulfilling that purpose with your unique writing style.

Here are the critical elements of line editing.

Sentence Structure

Effective line editing involves examining the rhythm of your prose, which is often achieved by varying sentence lengths. A well-placed short sentence can add a sharp change after a series of longer, descriptive ones to keep readers engaged. 

Oppositely, interspersing longer sentences among shorter, punchier ones can add depth and detail, enriching the narrative.

Where you place elements of your sentence matters, too. A line editor can make sure you punch with the right words or smoothly link a literary device into your prose.

Active vs. Passive Voice

Choosing to use active or passive voice has a huge impact on your writing. 

Active voice tends to make sentences clearer and more direct, offering a stronger connection with the reader. Passive voice, on the other hand, tends to be vaguer or more verbose. It definitely has its place in storytelling, but it can drag a story down if overused. 

Line editing seeks to ensure that the use of passive voice is intentional and effective, rather than a default choice that weakens your prose.

Consistency in Style and Tone

A consistent style and tone are crucial for maintaining your reader's immersion and interest. Line editing scrutinizes your manuscript to ensure your voice remains consistent throughout, adapting as necessary for different characters or situations but always aligning with the overall narrative voice.

As authors, our tone and style tend to be amalgamations of what we consume. Line editing makes sure you’re writing like you the whole time.

Common Errors and Fixes

While copy editing typically focuses on correcting grammatical errors and punctuation, line editing also pays attention to these elements as they contribute to the readability and style of the story. 

Misplaced commas, overused semicolons, or incorrect verb tenses can ruin the flow and distract your reader. A line editor looks for patterns of errors that might indicate a misunderstanding of grammar rules or stylistic choices that detract from your prose.


Readability is about making your text accessible and enjoyable for your fans (present and future). This doesn't mean oversimplifying your prose but ensuring that any added complexity serves a purpose. 

Line editing involves refining dense passages, breaking down convoluted sentences, and replacing obscure words with more accessible alternatives when necessary, all without sacrificing the story’s depth or your voice.

The Line Editing Process

Line editing isn’t the same as revising. Sure, when you’re revising your own work, you are hitting on some of the key elements of line editing. But a true line edit demands a keen eye for detail and a deep understanding of writing practices.

If you choose to hire a professional to give your story a line edit (or want to follow a similar process yourself), here’s what you can expect. I’ve written it as if you’re taking on this task yourself to sound a little less clinical.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Line Editing

  • First read-through - Begin with a complete read-through of your manuscript without making any changes. This first step helps you understand the overall flow and identify areas that may require more attention during the editing.
  • Assess sentence structure and flow - Examine each sentence and paragraph critically. Look for ways to improve clarity and flow, like varying sentence lengths, switching passive passages to active voice, and ensuring paragraph transitions are smooth and logical.
  • Refine language and style - Focus on the manuscript's language and style, specifically consistency and appropriateness for your target audience. Pay attention to word choice, tone, and voice; subtle adjustments can have a huge impact.
  • Grammar and punctuation check - While the primary focus of line editing isn't on grammar and punctuation, it's not a bad idea to correct any errors encountered during this stage. Keep your eye out for recurring issues—but bear in mind that you won’t catch as many as an outside editor.
  • Enhance readability - Work to improve the overall readability of your text. This might involve simplifying complex sentences, eliminating unnecessary jargon, or clarifying ambiguous passages to keep your writing clear.
  • Feedback and revision - If working with a professional line editor, review their feedback carefully. Understand the rationale behind suggested changes and consider how they enhance your manuscript. Be open to making revisions that align with your vision and improve the quality of your work.

Self-Editing Strategies

Hiring an editor just isn’t feasible for everyone. Budgets and deadlines can really restrict your capacity to bring someone in to polish up your story. So, if you’re going to tackle a line edit yourself, here are a few strategies in addition to the step-by-step guide above.

Take breaks - Distance can bring clarity. Take breaks between writing and editing sessions to approach your work with fresh eyes.

Read aloud - I used to hate doing this, but it makes a real difference. Reading your text aloud can help you catch awkward phrasings, repetitive sentence structures, and other issues that might not be as apparent when reading silently. If you’re using Dabble, you can use the Read To Me tool to save your voice a little.

Use editing tools - Consider using editing software to catch straightforward issues before delving into more nuanced line editing. Dabble comes with ProWritingAid built in, which can even help with the more stylistic changes of line editing.

When You Should Hire a Line Editor

On the other hand, you might have the resources to hire a professional editor. This can significantly elevate the quality of your story and prose, but isn’t a necessity.

Consider hiring a line editor if:

  • You’ve taken your manuscript as far as you can on your own and need an expert eye to refine it further
  • You’re unsure about the consistency of your style and tone.
  • You want to ensure your manuscript is as polished as possible before submitting it to an agent or publisher or you self-publish it

Working with a line editor doesn’t just help your one manuscript; the feedback you receive will make you a better author for your next stories, too. So let’s talk about what that looks like.

Working with a Line Editor

Engaging with a line editor is a significant step in your writing journey. It marks the transition from solitary drafting and revising to a collaborative process aimed at polishing your work until it shines. 

But don’t go into it blind! Here’s some advice for understanding what to expect and how to find the right line editor.

The Benefits of Professional Line Editing

A professional editor brings a wealth of experience and a fresh perspective to your manuscript. They're experts at identifying areas for improvement that you might overlook while offering suggestions to enhance clarity, flow, and engagement. 

Here's what you can expect from the process:

Detailed feedback - A line editor provides in-depth comments and suggestions on your story’s language use, style, and structure. Most importantly, they should offer explanations and alternatives that help you understand the rationale behind each suggestion.

Collaboration - Line editing is a collaborative effort. Expect to engage in discussions with your editor about your goals, preferences, and any specific concerns you have about line edits in your manuscript.

Improved readability and engagement - The primary goal of line editing is to enhance how your manuscript reads. This means line editors are not only correcting errors but also refining prose to improve clarity, maintain pacing, and ensure that your story is enjoyable to read.

Tips for Choosing a Line Editor

Choosing a line editor who understands your vision and works well with you is crucial. Here are some steps to find the right match:

Identify your needs - Before starting your search, have a clear understanding of what you want from the line editing process. Consider your manuscript’s genre, style, and the specific areas you know you want to work on.

Research and recommendations - Start with a broad search to identify potential editors. Look for editors with experience in your genre and positive testimonials from previous clients on websites like Reedsy and Freelancer. Personal recommendations from writing friends are great leads to follow, too.

Evaluate portfolios and experience - Review the portfolios of any potential editors to get a sense of their experience and expertise. Most job boards and freelancing sites require them to include some sort of portfolio.

Communication and compatibility - Before making a decision, have a conversation with the editor. This can be via email, phone, or video call. I can’t express how important it is that you feel comfortable with their approach and confident in their understanding of your goals.

Sample edit - Many editors offer a sample edit of a few pages of your manuscript. This is a great opportunity to see their work in action and determine if their editing style suits your needs.

Agree on terms - Once you've chosen an editor, ensure that you both agree on the scope of work, timelines, and fees. A clear contract is a must.

Working with a line editor is an investment in your story’s success. If you can afford it, it’s definitely worthwhile.

You Can’t Improve a Story You Haven’t Written Yet

If you’ll let me be a little sassy: no line editor can polish a blank page.

Writing a great book isn’t easy, though. Luckily, I’ve got just the tool to help you out with that: Dabble’s writing software.

I know I’m a little biased, considering where this article lives, but Dabble is made for writers just like you and me. It helps you come up with your plot and characters, gives you places to keep your worldbuilding and research just one click away from your manuscript, and can even help you set and reach your goals.

Dabble can help with your own line editing, too. I mentioned before that Dabble is fully integrated with ProWritingAid to help with spelling, grammar, and style, but you can also make inline comments, tack sticky notes to places, highlight, and share your work with others in read-only mode to get feedback.

Seriously, with Dabble there’s nothing stopping you from writing your best story. All you need to do is click this link to grab your free trial, no credit card required, and get writing.

Doug Landsborough

Doug Landsborough can’t get enough of writing. Whether freelancing as an editor, blog writer, or ghostwriter, Doug is a big fan of the power of words. In his spare time, he writes about monsters, angels, and demons under the name D. William Landsborough. When not obsessing about sympathetic villains and wondrous magic, Doug enjoys board games, horror movies, and spending time with his wife, Sarah.