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4 Levels of Editing

Kristin Noland Speculative Fiction Editor Crime Fiction Editor

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Did you know there are four levels of editing!

Editing is so much more than fixing grammar and punctuation errors.

There's editing for plot and characterization, flow and style, grammar and punctuation, and the final clean-up round that happens right before you publish!

I'm going to explain what these four levels are, why hire a professional, when to hire a professional, and what to expect from a professional editor at each level. (Levels are usually called editing rounds by us in the biz.)

The four levels are:

  • Developmental Editing

  • Line Editing

  • Copy Editing

  • Proofreading

Let's get into it!

Level 1: Developmental Editing

Developmental editing looks at the big picture items like plot, pacing, tone, point of view, characterization and character arcs, scene construction, and consistency of worldbuilding.

This edit will also include assessing effectiveness of hooks and cliffhangers, lengths of chapters, storyline order, and that your messages to your readers are clear.

Why hire a developmental editing pro?

Professional editors are trained in the art of editing and developmental editors are trained specifically in developmental editing.

We not only know your genre inside and out and can identify issues with the big-ticket items, we know specifically how you can increase the reader experience and hit their expectations, which helps you fashion the best story possible.

We both want the same thing—for you to publish your novel with confidence.

When to hire a pro.

You should hire a professional after you've completed writing your novel and have done several developmental editing rounds yourself.

You've edited for the big-picture elements of storytelling to the best of your ability, but you think or know something is still amiss.

What to expect from a developmental edit.

The editor will write a report which includes what is great about your novel and what could use some attention. This report can vary in length but is usually between three and ten pages.

Comments are placed within the manuscript to point out where your brilliance shines and specific issues that you may need to address.

Editors makes suggestions on how to improve your novel to meet your readers' expectations and give them immersive experience.

Level 2: Line Editing

This level, round, is exactly what it sounds like.

Each line is assessed for its necessity, intent, clarity, etc.

This is level can also be called stylistic or substantive editing.

In this round, the editor will make the suggested edits to improve the clarity and flow from one sentence and paragraph to the next.

They will offer better word choices, more varied sentence structure, and eliminate unnecessary dialogue tags, and much more at the sentence-level.

Why hire a line editor?

Again, we've been trained to enhance sentence structure, ensure clarity and conciseness, while adhering to your stylistic choices and voice.

When to hire a pro.

You should hire a professional after you've completed several line editing rounds yourself.

You've reached the maximum of your self-editing skills, but you know your manuscript could be better.

What to expect from a line edit

This is the editing round most authors dread. 

You will probably get back a manuscript that looks like it has been hacked to bits with all the red and strikethroughs.

But don’t lose hope.

Line editors are using a microscope to find ways to improve your novel.

From the color shock alone, it may feel like your writing must be atrocious, but chances are, the better you are, the closer they are looking.

Our goal is to take your writing to the next level.

So, don't be scared. You want to publish a book that's a fantastic read, and line editors can help you do that.

Level 3: Copyediting

Copyediting is the type of editing most people are familiar with—correcting grammar, spelling, capitalization, and punctuation.

Copyediting is more about correcting grammar than stylistic choices (line editing).

But it also includes some sentence restructuring and selecting stronger verbs and other word choices to ensure clarity and conciseness and readability.

Consider this the tightening up phase.

Why hire a copy editor?

Again, professional editors been trained.

They understand grammar rules and when to break them.

They weigh your choices and voice with correctness, to keep your voice and your intended meaning.

When to hire a pro.

You should hire a professional after you've completed a couple of copyediting rounds.

You've reached the maximum of your self-editing skills, but you want to ensure your grammar and punctuation are right and your manuscript reads easily.

What to expect from a copyedit

There should be much less red (or whatever color you choose) than in the line editing round.

Copy editors make smaller adjustments to sentence structure, decrease repetitiveness, and ensure consistency of style choices, while adhering to grammar rules.

Level 4: Proofreading

Like copy editors, proofreaders check for punctuation, spelling, and consistency of capitalization and use of italics and quotation marks.

They also look at chapter numbering and titling and page numbering, page and scene breaks, indentions, typeface, and front matter are formatted properly before you publish.

Why hire a proofreader?

Professional proofreaders been extensively trained.

They understand proper book layout and hyphenation of end-of-line words, and how to correct spacing issues on the page.

They are your last line of defense against missing words and commas, tiny errors like a period at the end of spoken dialogue with a dialogue tag instead of a comma, and even your contents page.

When to hire a pro.

You should hire a professional after you've completed a couple of proofreading rounds yourself.

You've reached the maximum of your proofreading skills and you've formatted your book for publishing.

What to expect from a proofread.

You should expect minor adjustments to the text, most of which will be non-negotiable, like periods or single spaces between sentences.

So, there won’t be many changes for you to approve or reject in this round.

You will mostly accept these tweaks, but the final decision is always yours.

After you've reviewed the proofread, you are ready to publish!

Each Level is Essential

Each level of editing is necessary to prepare your novel for the world to devour.

If you are skilled in some of these areas, that's great! DIY is an option for you.

Still, it's best to hire a professional for the levels you aren't comfortable with.

Developmental - Big Picture

Line - Sentence Level

Copy - Grammar

Proofreading - Minute Details

I hope you enjoyed this post!

Happy Writing and Revising!

Kristin Noland - Speculative and Crime Fiction Editor

Write in these genres? Let's chat! 

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