What Kind of Editing Does My Book Need?

Man in bookstore, with cat, thinking about editing.

Editing is a single word that encompasses so many meanings. Which level of editing does your project need?

If you’ve come to my website through a Google search, the odds are pretty good that you’re a new nonfiction book author in search of an editor. Maybe you’ve written a business book, a self-help book, or a how-to book (my niches). Perhaps your agent has suggested you hire an outside editor to help improve your manuscript before she submits it to publishers.

Or maybe your publisher is smaller, and has limited time and budget to devote to your manuscript. The publisher would like your book to get a round of edits–on your dime–before its editors begin to work on it in-house to prep it for publication.

Perhaps you’re self-publishing, and you know you need the help of a professional editor to make your book as polished and high-quality as possible.

Whatever the reason you’re looking for a freelance book editor, you’re likely to be asking yourself: What kind of edit do I need?

My answer? It depends.

When to Get a Freelance Book Editor (and for What Level of Editing)

First: Where are you in your writing process?

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

What kind of editing you need depends on where you are in your writing process and publishing pipeline. Have you just started writing your book, or do you have a full first (or second, or third) draft that’s as good as you think you can make it on your own?

If you’re not quite done with a draft of your book yet . . .you need a content edit or developmental edit.

If you’ve labored over your book for months or years and you believe it’s finished and needs a final polish. . .you probably need a line edit or copy edit. (For definitions, see my previous post on the types of book editing.)

Second: Who’s waiting on your book to be finished?

What type of edit you need also depends on who wants your manuscript right now. Is there someone waiting for it so they can work on it (either selling it or editing it)? Or are you on your own as far as the timetable is concerned?

If someone’s waiting on your book at this precise moment . . . chances are that person will tell you what they think you need. Ask that person before looking for an editor. If you’re on your own, self-publishing or just many miles out from contact agents or editors–keep reading this post!

man and woman discussing website content outside coffee shop

Finally: What are your writing strengths and weaknesses?

What kind of edit your book needs depends on your manuscript and how it reads right now. What needs attention to make your book as strong as possible?

Do you already have a set of notes about what needs editing–for example, from a publisher who rejected the book or an agent who thinks the manuscript is almost there (but not quite)? Or are you coming to this process completely cold, with no idea what you need?

If someone has told you that you have structural or storytelling issues, or that you’re almost done but need to write some more content . . . you likely need a developmental editor or content editor–someone to help you with organization and big picture thinking.

If your content is great but you have sentence-level issues with grammar, voice, style, or punctuation . . .you probably need a line editor.

As you can see, what kind of editing you’ll be needing depends on where you are in your writing process, what your strengths and weaknesses are, and who’s involved in guiding your project toward completion.

For explanations of the different types of freelance book editors, click here to read my previous post. If you’re still not certain as to what level of editing you need, you can get in touch with me by contacting me to discuss your work.


Types of Book Editing

Editing help needed. Photo by Dmitry Ratushny on Unsplash

Photo by Dmitry Ratushny on Unsplash

Authors and writers need editors for a variety of reasons. If you’ve found this blog post, you probably know you need an editor, and maybe you even know why–but do you know what level of editing your project needs? (Don’t fret if the answer is no. This post will help you find the answer.)

Freelance editors provide different kinds of editing for different phases of a project. These different types of editing are priced differently, and they provide different results.

Types of Book Editing (Nonfiction Books)

Manuscript critique

If you have finished writing a book but you genuinely aren’t sure what kind of book editing you need, a critique is a great place to start. Most independent editors offer this assessment service (for a fee).

The editor will read your manuscript 1-2 times, then write you a brief report outlining a list of issues or concerns. This report is broad, pointing out consistent weaknesses or big picture structural issues that need fixing. (For example: “You use almost exclusively passive voice” or “What you’re calling Chapter 1 right now is actually an Introduction, and your Introduction is really a Preface.”)

Manuscript critiques give you a blueprint for where to go next. You can then work independently to fix your manuscript’s biggest issues, based on this blueprint.

Developmental edit (content edit)

This edit helps to improve the meaning and structure of your content. In journalism or the business world, many people refer to this as substantive editing.

The goal of a content edit is to elevate the quality of your work on a fundamental level by asking the question, “Does it make sense?” (Or, “Are you making your point as clearly as possible?”) If not, what needs to be changed to improve the work? Is there anything missing that would make your project better? Are your chapters in the right order, and do you have enough of them? Are chapters and sections balanced for length? Have you backed up your claims with research or case studies?

Normally, you’d hire a developmental editor after you’ve written a draft (or at least a few ideas on a napkin) and before you hire a line editor.

Some content editors are willing to work with you one chapter at a time, while others prefer to wait for a finished draft before they give feedback on your work. (I offer both approaches.)

Line edit

A line edit is a more detailed pass through your document–usually through a completed draft.

It’s focused less on big picture or chapter-level structural thinking, and more on your paragraphs and sentences: are they in the best possible sequence? How’s your prose? Are you choosing the right words? Using the right punctuation?

Typically, a line edit will have more “red marks,” or Track Changes comments, than a developmental edit.

Copy edit

A copy edit happens near the end of the process, close to publication. At this point, you’ve probably done a developmental edit, or at least had your work read by beta readers, your writing group, or an agent.

A good copy editor is a fiercely dedicated perfectionist who goes through your manuscript with a red pen and a maniacal devotion to (and expert-level knowledge of) whatever style guide best applies to your book or document. Are your paragraph breaks appropriate? How’s the formatting on your end notes? Are you formatting according to the Chicago Manual of Style? The APA style guide? The MLA? The AP?

Are you not sure what any of that means? Then you need a copy editor to tell you.


Finally, just prior to publication, a proofreader looks at your copy edited manuscript to check for mistakes other rounds of editing may have missed.

No matter how great your copy editor is, she’ll miss at least one thing somewhere in the document–she’s only human, after all. A proofreader will also check for formatting and layout issues.

Gray Areas in Editing

Keep in mind, sometimes a book’s needs fall into a gray area, requiring an editor to blend styles.

For example, often I will take on a client for content editing and find that light line editing is also needed to help the author understand a few basic grammar, punctuation, or style rules. I make a few sample edits, in that case, so the author can then address these issues on his own when he spots them.

Similarly, some line editors read very closely and provide something more like a true copy edit; they go over every line of your book to make sure you’re adhering to punctuation and grammar rules.

But what if you haven’t written a book at all?

What if the material you need edited is something else entirely, like a speech, a keynote presentation, an op-ed for a newspaper, or a fellowship application essay?

Can other types of writing still benefit from an independent editor?

Of course! Any written project can benefit from each of these phases of editing. I’ve offered content edits, manuscript critiques, and line edits to numerous small businesses and corporate clients. I’ve worked on blog posts, LinkedIn summaries, website About pages, executive bios, and even grad school application essays and artists’ statements.

However, in my experience and in today’s market, most business writing moves too rapidly to take full advantage of each phase the way traditional publishing does. Freelance writers and editors who work for corporate clients are often doing double or triple duty: drafting, editing, and even proofreading their own work. It’s not ideal, but it’s a reality when time and budgets are constrained.

This is where book authors have a leg up on everyone else: your book probably isn’t on a severe deadline (as in “I need it in three days!”). You have the luxury of more time to do it right.

Does your project need a critique or edit?

Contact me to discuss your goals. If I can’t help you, I may be able to refer you to copy editors, proofreaders, or other professionals who can.

Editorial Updates: Spring Cleaning, 2017

I hate to see professional websites with stale, un-updated blogs. . . and yet I seem to have one. No longer! Spring cleaning means I need to address this shameful situation.

Here are some projects I’ve been up to in the past year:

Contract content writing. I write SEO-optimized medical blog posts for an agency with multiple clients (1-6 posts per week). I also ghost write weekly corporate blog posts for a second client in a B2B industry. I can do this for more clients–contact me if you need content.

Nonfiction book editing. Note, you may see “non-fiction” and “nonfiction” spelled interchangeably throughout this site. I let the inconsistency stand so I can grab both search terms, though I prefer the non-hyphenated version.

Over the course of the last year, I’ve been editing a business book one chapter at a time–providing a mix of content editing and light line editing. That book will be published by a major business and technology book publisher sometime later this year or in early 2018. If you’re interested in working with a developmental editor, contact me–tell me about your project (book or otherwise), how far along you are with your work, your timeline, and what you think you may need.

Nonfiction manuscript critique. Last month I completed a manuscript critique of a self-published business book on leadership and management. How critique works: I read a finished draft of a book, then provide a 2-5 page, single-spaced editorial letter outlining any major issues I see (e.g., persistent grammar or usage problems; voice or style inconsistency; confusing train of thought; sequencing or structural problems; and areas where the author needs to expand upon an idea in order to make the book more “book-like” or marketable). Critique is a service I will soon list prominently in my offerings–it’s great fun to work with authors at this level, and it’s an easy, productive way for both parties to get to know each other without entering into a long-term contract. If you’re interested in critique, contact me–tell me about your project, your timeline, and where you feel your writing needs the most attention.

Upcoming Projects:

Over the next few weeks, I’m starting two new, small projects: editing and revising marketing copy for two publishing-related clients. 

How I Can Help You:

If you have a nonfiction manuscript in need of a critique or content edit, I have room in my schedule beginning June 1. I’m also taking ghostwriting and book doctoring work (nonfiction only). 

  • Critique = two read-throughs, an editorial letter, and occasional margin notes.
  • Content edit = a thorough markup of your digital manuscript with margin notes regarding structure, tone, voice, argument/research (how well did you build your case?), and sequencing of ideas. This level of editing includes light line editing (to show examples of how to fix persistent grammar or usage issues). 
  • Book doctoring = revising or helping to complete (i.e., add material to) a nearly finished nonfiction book. 
  • Ghostwriting = heavy re-writing or writing from scratch: nonfiction books, presentation materials, blog posts, business letters, query letters, etc.

Spring is an ideal time to get an editor or collaborative writer on your side–especially if you want to work faster so you can enjoy your well-earned summer vacation. Let’s chat!