The 3 Levels of Editing Every Author Needs

An Investment in Quality

The best thing you can do for your book is to hire professional editors to perform three levels of manuscript editing, in this order:

  1. Developmental Editing
  2. Copy Editing
  3. Proofreading

Developmental Editing (also called content editing, structural editing, or substantive editing)

The first step in the editing process is working with a developmental editor or writing coach to improve your book’s content without compromising your voice or style. This work happens while you write the manuscript or after a draft is completed. For fiction manuscripts, developmental editing strengthens critical components like plot, story arc, pacing, character development, dialogue, and point of view. For nonfiction manuscripts, developmental editing focuses on thesis, exposition, content, organization, and tone. This step often starts with a manuscript evaluation, which gives a clear analysis of the book’s quality as it’s currently written, and what can be done to improve it.

Copy Editing

Step two is copy editing, which involves cleaning up the manuscript and preparing it to enter the book design process. Copy editors focus on grammar, spelling, punctuation, word usage, and flow; copy editors sometimes deal with formatting issues, such as ensuring the headers, subheaders, etc., are consistent throughout the manuscript. More than one round of copyediting can be helpful, especially if you did not work with a writing coach or developmental editor. There is another type of editing called line editing that deals with style, language, tone, etc., and is sometimes performed prior to or at the same time as copyediting.


The last editing step is proofreading, which happens after the book has been designed; it is the last opportunity to identify and correct errors before the book is published. Proofreaders focus on errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and design. Changes can be costly and time-consuming this late in the process, so if something isn’t a true error, the proofreader will leave it as is. Unlike developmental editing and copy editing, in which the editors make changes directly in the MS Word manuscripts, proofreaders are not able to make corrections themselves; they work with PDFs and use PDF markup or typed out instructions to tell the designers what corrections to make.


Hiring professionals to perform these three levels of editing do not guarantee your book will be a bestseller, but it will ensure your book has a fighting chance in a crowded marketplace. You’ll find outstanding editors here:


Chicago Women in Publishing  

Editorial Freelancers Association