What are the different types of book editing?

Doug Landsborough
November 25, 2021
April 20, 2023

Despite what many of us were taught in grade school, there are many types of editing and it is not a one-size-fits-all process; when editing your book, you might hire an editor for:

  • Editorial assessments
  • Developmental editing
  • Line editing
  • Sensitivity reading
  • Copy editing
  • Proofreading
  • Fact-checking

That’s a huge list, right? But each of those types of editing covers something entirely different. Whether or not your book needs a specific type of editing is up to you (and, ultimately, your fans). To help you make an informed choice on where you will potentially spend your time and money, we’re going to explain each of these types of editing.

We’ve also listed the types of editing in this article in the order that you would normally apply them. Note that this isn’t always the case (especially in back-to-the-drawing-board situations), but it is the path that most authors will take.

Editorial Assessments - What are they & when do you need them?

An editorial assessment is the least intensive of all the types of editing. Instead of looking at specific components or elements of your story, the purpose of an editorial assessment is to provide high-level feedback on your draft.

If you hire someone for an editorial assessment, you’ll usually get a letter back, probably about a page or so, that gives you broad statements about what you did well, what you need to improve on, what works, and what doesn’t.

Unlike other editing, an editorial assessment can be conducted in the middle of your first draft to make sure you’re on the right track. It can also be conducted once a manuscript is completed.

Editorial assessments, just one type of editing, usually come in the form of a letter

Developmental Editing (Structural or Content Editing) - What is it & when do you need it?

Developmental editing (also known as story, structural, or content editing) is your big-picture editing. It is by far the most intensive of all the types of editing and looks at:

Developmental editors look at the book as a whole and might suggest rearranging chapters or changing huge parts of your story that just don’t work. A developmental edit is the first major edit that your book will go through.

Line Editing - What is it & when do you need it?

Line editing is the next step down from developmental editing. Where a developmental edit examines the entirety of the story and the chapters, a line edit is more about the paragraphs and sentences. A line editor will suggest changes to:

  • Word choice
  • Pacing
  • Flow
  • Voice
  • Style
  • Realistic dialogue

A line edit polishes your work so it goes from cloudy to sparkling. A good line editor will dig through some of your excess verbiage (or lack thereof) and pull out what you wanted to say the whole time, all while maintaining your unique narrative voice.

Realistic dialogue is just one of the things that a line editor looks for

Sensitivity Reading - What is it & when do you need it?

Sensitivity reading is like a very specific kind of line or developmental editing. When you hire a sensitivity reader, you are getting someone to look out for the language and characterization you have used in your book, especially as it relates to characters who are minorities or have lived experience that you do not.

Sensitivity readers look for:

  • Offensive content
  • Misrepresentation
  • Stereotypes
  • Bias
  • Misunderstanding
  • Miscommunication

Even a writer with the best of intentions can make a mistake when writing about experiences that aren’t their own. A sensitivity reader can help make your book qualitatively better by lending their experience and understanding to your writing.

Copy Editing - What is it & when do you need it?

If we take another step down from line editing, you’ll find copy editing (or copyediting, depending on your style guide). Instead of making suggestions to the book, chapters, paragraphs, or sentence flow, copy editing examines each individual word.

This is your traditional editing, the one that everyone seems to think they can manage on their own (spoiler: finding your own copy editing errors is extremely difficult).

This includes:

  • Spelling
  • Grammar
  • Punctuation
  • Numbers and numerals
  • POV changes
  • Consistency in character traits (i.e., eye color, height, tattoos, etc.)

It is very noticeable when an author has not had their book copy edited. While Dabble does have powerful tools like ProWritingAid backing its spelling, grammar, and style checks, no book should go out without a copy edit. At the end of a copy edit, your book should be as close to error-free as possible.

As a rule of thumb, a copy edit should only happen after all qualitative changes to your book are resolved; there’s no point correcting the spelling and punctuation if your sentences, paragraphs, or chapters might change.

Proofreading - What is it & when do you need it?

Growing up, most of us were taught that “proofreading” means the same thing as copy editing. Sorry Ms. Glass (my high school English teacher), but they are not.

Proofreading is the act of, well, reading a proof copy. This is your absolute last chance to go through a pre-publication copy of your book to look for any last errors. Specifically, proofreading looks for errors in:

  • Printing
  • Margins
  • Type
  • Improperly formatted pictures
  • Any final typos and other errors that might have slipped through the copy edit phase

Anyone who has self-published with KDP has reviewed their proof copy (with the “Not for resale” band around it) before hitting that publish button. Authors who publish through traditional publishers might have their proof copy examined for them or will do it themselves—or both!

Fact-Checking - What is it & when do you need it?

Listen up, non-fiction authors. You too, intense sci-fi, climate fiction, historical fiction, and other authors of things based in reality. If your book is filled with information or makes assumptions based on known information (i.e., what life is like on a spaceship), people will rip you apart if you get your facts wrong.

Fact-checking is the thrilling task of making sure you aren’t mistaken or lying in your book. This is why I write fantasy—I get to make stuff up. For those aforementioned writers though, fact-checking is crucial to maintaining your status as an authority figure or someone who just knows what they’re talking about.

It’s important to note that other types of editors might do some fact-checking, but that isn’t their job. Also, fact-checking can happen at any point during the editing process.

A recreation of a proofreader looking for errors in a proof copy
A recreation of a proofreader looking for errors in a proof copy

Turn a good story into a great one

If all of us published our first drafts, the world would be full of some pretty terrible books. Thankfully, we have all these different types of editing that not only make our stories better but make us better storytellers.

o when you’ve finished writing your next book, take some time to understand these different types of editing and see which ones you and your manuscript would benefit from. And if you haven’t already seen how Dabble makes writing your story easier and better, click here to try it out for 14 days, completely free, no credit card required.

Happy 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.