Throughout its life before printing, a manuscript can and will undergo many different kinds of editing. Here at Ooligan Press, we break up our editing into developmental editing, line-editing, copyediting, and proofreading. In her article “Understanding Different Types of Editing: What Kind of Freelance Editor do I Need”, Jenna Rose Robins describes several different kinds of editing. These can then be divided even further into levels of editing, depending on the needs of the manuscript.
Ultimately, each kind of editing can mean different things to different editors. But even when you have the lines between the various types of editing more clearly defined, certain styles of editing can bleed over between types and others cannot. It all depends on timing and the needs of the manuscript or publishing house.
Developmental editing usually happens first while a manuscript is still in need of organization and narrative development. This is when a story changes the most, and there’s the most leeway for change. Editors will prioritize development in this stage, but comments pointing out global line edits or copyedits can help a writer fix large-scale mistakes before they become a problem later.
Line editing approaches the manuscript from a global language scale. A line editor will point out consistent language errors and concerns such as repeated phrases or unvarying sentence length and patterns. Line editing can often look like heavy copyediting when there is time to focus on specific scenes or bring up large issues with the plot.
Copyediting comes in various levels: heavy, in which sentences and scenes can be modified greatly, medium, in which suggestions for changes are given, and light, in which manuscripts are made to fit style guides. For an in-depth discussion of the levels of copyediting, check out Amy Einsohn’s The Copyeditor’s Handbook. Copyediting can often include the other kinds of editing, but by a light copyedit, there’s little to no time to make big changes to a manuscript.
A proofread is the strictest form of editing. By the time a book arrives at the proofreading stage, the manuscript has often been designed with tracking and kerning changes. The proofread finalizes punctuation and spelling, making only the small and most glaring changes. At this point, there is no room for plot changes and little room for larger sentence-level changes.
While there are different forms of editing and as an editor you will usually be hired to focus on one kind of editing at a time, you can use the tools from each type to assist you throughout the process. A proofreader’s ability to spot small errors can help a developmental editor find important plot holes. The ability to make large developmental changes with an author can help an editor handling tricky scenes amidst heavy and light copyedits. These kinds of tools and skills are helpful for all types of editing, and there are many ways to bring in the different forms of editing outside the lines of traditional editing itself.