What Type of Editor Do You Need?

By Rachelle Ramirez

If you’re confused about the different types of editors (which to hire and when), rest assured that you’re not alone.

For example, writers often confuse line editing with copyediting or proofreading since all three types of editors focus detailed attention on the use of language and involve "marking-up" a manuscript. But they are different processes, requiring different professional skill sets, and should occur at very different times during the writing process. Most beginning writers haven’t even heard of a developmental editor and mistakenly think they’re ready to pitch to an acquisitions editor as soon as they finish their first draft.

Uh oh. That’s a sure fire way to close some doors on their writing career.

Here, I offer what I’ve learned about distinguishing the different editing services in hopes of saving you the time, money, and headaches it costs so many writers when they hire the wrong editor. Because let’s face it, not everyone who hangs out an “Editor for Hire” shingle has your best interests in mind. You can’t count on them to properly evaluate your work and turn you (and your money) toward a different editor.

Developmental Editors
The first stage editor is the developmental editor. Often referred to as structural or substantive editors, developmental editors help you create a page-turning story. (This is the type of editing we do at Pages & Platforms.)

Developmental editors work collaboratively with you in honing your genre, theme, and controlling idea to create a strong beginning hook, middle-build, and ending pay-off. They help improve scene structure, pacing, character arcs, story congruence, and narrative drive. They guide you in eliminating extraneous scenes and adding missing scenes. They provide solutions to scenes that don’t work, narrative digressions, and excess exposition.

Consider hiring a developmental editor at these three points:

1. When you have a completed draft and want specific actionable items for improving your manuscript and taking it to the next level draft. This is especially helpful in early drafts when the structure still needs work.

2. At any point, in any draft, when you feel stuck with structure or content and are not sure how to proceed.

3. When you need an external accountability coach to get the words on the page. I know I write nothing, including this blog, without an externally enforced deadline.

Line Editors
Line editors (sometimes known as content editors) examine the creative content, writing style, and language use at the sentence and paragraph level. They help make your sentences more fluid, varied, and less repetitious. They look for consistency in voice and can help your line by line writing resonate with readers. They help eliminate clichés and over-generalizations while improving dialog, tone, and clarity.

A line editor will edit every sentence in your manuscript to maintain and improve your unique voice. They may note the timeline and character inconsistencies you missed when working with a developmental editor.

Consider hiring a line editor when all structural, character, and story arc issues are resolved. Hire a line editor when you’re sure your story is complete, and you’re ready to move into the final major draft.

A copyeditor addresses challenges at a technical level and makes sure your text meets publishing standards which vary by industry.

A copyeditor reviews and corrects spelling, grammar, punctuation, and syntax. They ensure consistency in spelling, hyphenation, fonts, numbers, and capitalization. They flag ambiguous or factually incorrect statements (mostly for nonfiction).

A copyeditor requires a rule-based understanding of standard American English usage that other editors don’t have. They have likely memorized the Chicago Manual of Style, and they have an eye for typos and basic grammatical errors that can make your college English professor look like a lightweight with the red pen.

Copyeditors do not note when your scenes don’t work, and they won’t change your sentences to make them more fluid or better resonate with readers. They don’t evaluate story structure or content. They only perfect what is already on the page.

There are special considerations for hiring a copyeditor. Sometimes, line editing and copyediting are done together. It will depend on your editor, how much work needs to be done at the line level, and how skilled you are at incorporating line edits into your work. Do not skip the copyeditor if you choose to skip the line editor or the proofreader.

A proofreader is your end-stage editor. Proofreaders correct spelling, grammar, punctuation, fonts, page numbering, typos, and the smaller issues that might have been missed by a copy editor or designer. A proofreader will also ensure all the back and forth between the copyeditor and the author has been captured appropriately in the final manuscript. A proofreader reviews publication formatting (print and digital) and ensures the copy editor’s suggestions were incorporated into the final draft.

Publishing companies usually hire their own proofreaders so, if you’ve already worked with a copyeditor and don’t plan to self-publish, you can probably skip the proofreader.

Acquisitions Editors
These are the “editors” buying manuscripts for publishing houses.

In the big publishing houses, these editors accept manuscript submissions from literary agents only. In smaller publishing houses, you may be able to send your manuscript directly to them for publication review. You never pay a fee to an acquisitions editor.

Acquisitions editors do not generally suggest changes to your manuscript. They want a manuscript that is ready to publish and as close to complete as possible. They’re asking themselves whether or not they can sell your book to a lot of readers, not how to improve the manuscript.

While a publishing house will send your manuscript to their copyeditor and proofreader to prepare it for final publication, gone are the days when every writer worked one-on-one with a publishing house developmental or line editor. They just aren’t on staff anymore. Now, we hire our own so that our stories meet the basic professional standards expected by agents, acquisitions editors, and readers.

How to Choose an Editor
Now that you know the different types of editing services available to you, I encourage you to continue your research before hiring. Ask your friends and writing colleagues for editor recommendations. Verify the editor’s training, certification, and oversight. While it’s a rare editor that has all three, that’s what you’re aiming for. Hiring an editor whose only qualification is a master’s degree in English isn’t a risk you want to take with your story and writing career.

Skip the Fiverr search.

Once you’ve narrowed down the editor pool, ask prospective editors a lot of questions. Do they understand your genre? Do they know what it is you are trying to achieve with your work? Do you believe you can work collaboratively with them?

Trust your gut. It’s rarely wrong.

Final Thoughts
I hope this little guide has helped you move forward as a professional writer and figure out which editor can help you at each stage of your writing process.

We’re all in this together, and I wish you the best of luck and hard work.

Rachelle Ramirez