Editing Has Layers: How to Choose the Right Type of Edit for Your Book

When I think of the many levels of editing, I can’t help but be reminded of a certain one-liner from one notorious ogre anti-hero: “Layers. Editing has layers.”

If you’re truly invested in the welfare of your book, you need editing for more than just the grammar mistakes or misspellings. By conducting deeper layers of editing, you’re developing a product that will likely stand well above the others in your genre.

Before I jump into the levels of editing, take a look at my other blog post about common mistakes authors make when hiring editors, which can shed some light on the reasons why you should consider incorporating a professional editing partner into your publishing team.

Deepest Layer: Developmental Edit

This layer of editing goes by many names, substantive, content, developmental, but they all basically all have the same idea. At this level, an editor will dissect your content and give suggestions. While fiction titles are no strangers to the substantive edit, this is more commonly found in non-fiction titles or textbooks where the content is dense and needs more help to be easily digestible.

For non-fiction titles, a content edit might look like reordering the table of contents, developing a clear thesis, cutting redundancies, rewriting introduction and conclusion paragraphs for each chapter, combining or splitting up sections, etc.

For fiction titles, an editor might look for timeline and other story inconsistencies, review tone, point out where certain scenes are hindering the progress of a story, suggest additions to other scenes, asses character development, etc.

For both genres, developmental editing occurs before any other type of editing, usually right after an author finishes writing but before the title is marked final. This type of editing is usually more expensive at a fixed hourly rate or about .05 – .10 cents per word. Expect longer turnaround times from your editor, as they are carefully crafting suggestions and re-reading your content.

All authors of non-fiction should consider hiring a developmental editor before publishing. For fiction authors, consider hiring a developmental editor if your book relies on historical events, has a complicated timeline, is deeply rooted in science, or has made up worlds or languages (i.e., historical fiction or science fiction/fantasy). Other reasons you might consider a developmental editor is if you have scenes that are bothering you and you just can’t figure out what might make them better.

Mid Layer: Copy Editing

Also known as line editing, copy editing is the author’s next step in the editing process. A copy editor will read through your final draft once or twice and make the necessary grammar, spelling, style, and consistency edits.

If you’ve done your research and choose the right editor, they will likely have trained in style guides. Your copy editor will know the right changes to make to adhere to the style guide that makes most sense with the type of book you have written. Academic and fiction books adhere to the Chicago Manual of Style, which is the style guide followed by most publishing houses. However, if you are publishing non-fiction through a niche publishing house (e.g., some scholarly or medical publishing), you might find out what style guide they prefer and find an editor trained in that style.  

Your developmental editor may also provide copy editing, or you may choose to bring in a second editor for another fresh set of eyes. The copy editor should be the last reviewer before you self-publish or send your manuscript to an agent; therefore, the copy editor should receive the cleanest, final version of your book. Copy editors will usually charge per word, between .005 and .02 cents per word, and can generally return their edits back to you in a matter of weeks.

There is never a good reason not to hire a copy editor for your project, as you can likely find one in your price range—just keep in mind that you get what you pay for.

Top Layer: Proofreading

Proofreading is the cherry on top of your editing process. When you begin the publishing process, either through a traditional publisher, print on demand publisher, or even if you’re self-publishing, there will be a phase in the process where your book is condensed onto a smaller page, styles are applied, fonts are changed, e-books are developed, etc. After this layout phase, you’ll want a proofread of the final, designed manuscript to catch any last mistakes to punctuation, spelling, spacing, and layout.

If you are publishing through any type of publishing house, this type of editing will likely already be included, as they are the ones formatting. However, if you are doing this work yourself, you might consider having your copy editor do a final proofread or hiring even another person. Proofreads can usually occur in a matter of days and are generally cheaper than the copy edit.

Great, editing has layers. What next?

Now that you know the layers of editing, consider your budget carefully and round up some professionals to make up your editing team. You can find these editors for hire all across the internet, but be careful in your approach. Pay attention to an editor’s previous authors and testimonials, and be wary of rates that seem too good to be true. Perhaps my most important tip is to find editors that have been trained in editing, whether in school or through continuing education. Editors, like authors, are never done honing their craft, and good editors will seek out education before calling themselves a professional.

Happy editing,


Note: While I have been trained in developmental editing by the University of Chicago Graham School, I am not currently offering that service. Consider hiring me for copy editing and/or proofreading, and if you want me to pay special attention to a deeper aspect of the content, we can discuss your request over email.

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