How Different Editors Look at your Book

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There are a lot of types of editors in book publishing. Some editors are agents or acquisitions editors who acquire new books for publishers. Some are production editors who don’t really look at books on a word or story level. But for the sake of this blog, we’re going to focus on the editors who help to strengthen your manuscript. These editors are readily available both in traditional publishing and self-publishing environments. The most well-known editors can be broken down into two categories, big-picture editors and up-close editors.

Big-Picture Editors: Developmental and Line editors

Big-picture editors are developmental and line editors and they’re looking at your book from a bigger story and place in the market perspective. A common misconception is that developmental edits and a manuscript evaluation are equivalent services, but a developmental edit dives into your book deeper than an evaluation of your manuscript.

Developmental Editors

Developmental editors dig into your book’s structure. This includes character development, character arcs, marketability, audience expectations, voice, tone, and organization of your manuscript. Writers also call them “book doctors” because they diagnose and treat issues within your book. The feedback you receive from a developmental editor is usually extensive. It typically includes in-text notes as well as feedback sheets and reports that can easily be dozens of pages long. Most work closely with authors over a series of weeks or months and typically work in rounds of edits to help develop (get the name) into the best shape they can be in foundationally.

Line Editors

Line editors look at your book a little more closely and assess the overall linguistic and stylistic choices being made within your story. They are looking at your book on a closer sentence-to-sentence level and may involve some sentence moving, but generally, they’re looking at helping you with differentiating characters, strengthening your word choice, and creating an impact with your language. This is different from copyediting because line editors aren’t worried about your grammar and punctuation. They’re trying to help you choose the most effective words for your genre, audience, and story all while maintaining authorial voice.

Signs you may need a big picture editor:
  • Your world has elaborate world-building or an intensive magic/power system.
  • If your initial feedback expresses a need to look at pacing and you’re not sure what it means.
  • Parts of your book feel out of place or the story doesn’t flow how you want it to.
  • Readers misinterpreting one or more characters or reporting that they are falling flat.

Up-Close Editors: Copyeditors and Proofreaders

Up-close editors are the copyeditors and proofreaders because they’re looking at manuscripts on a word and mark level. They look at every word, every punctuation mark, and the patterns in your writing.


Copyeditors dive deep into word choice, punctuation choice, grammar, consistency, and usage. They create a customized guide called a style sheet to track all language choices, word choices, and continuity markers to make sure that no detail slips through the cracks. Copyediting is designed for attention to detail and overall polishing of a manuscript.


Proofreaders are supposed to be the last step in the editing process and they ideally work off of the copyeditors style sheet. They help enforce any rules set in the editing process and try to catch any errors missed by the above editors. They are there as a safety net, and they are supposed to be the last set of eyes before publishing. Proofreaders are not meant to be the only set of eyes on a manuscript. It’s tempting to only use a proofreader when solely looking at costs, but proofreaders by trade are only meant to catch egregious errors.

Signs you may need an up-close editor:
  • Your story is solid, but you have no idea where the punctuation goes.
  • English isn’t your birth language.
  • You’ve gone through multiple rounds of edits and you’re looking for nitty-gritty detail feedback.
  • Some of your sentences are awkward or confusing and you don’t know how to tackle them.

What all editors look at:

  • Reader Experience: If your reader can’t understand the story or the words or is bored out of their mind, they won’t read your book. Editors care that your story reaches and hooks readers. All editors are focused on different parts of the reader experience, but their goal is to provide you with tips and suggestions to improve the overall quality of your story and how it impacts your ideal readers.
  • Authorial Voice: The most common fear I hear from authors is that it won’t sound like them anymore. Every editor I’ve ever met has a strong drive to maintain the author’s voice. As professional editors, our role is that of a supporting character. We’re trained to uplift the voice you already have established and offer suggestions to clarify and build upon your story. Especially in freelance editing, there is more freedom to allow creative story structure and language usage by indie authors as you’re not trying to fit into pre-prescribed boxes created by traditional publishers.
  • Consistency: Editors look for consistency. Big-picture editors look for consistency within genre, style, and reader expectations. Up-close editors are looking for technical consistency. Regardless of the editor they want to know that the author is delivering a consistent story to the reader
  • Story Impact: Whoever you choose to utilize, your editor is focused on trying to approve the impact of your story. Whether they call it developing, styling, or polishing the goal is to bring your book one step close to meeting reader expectations as to what a book should read like.

What has been your experience with any of the above-listed editors? Let’s chat about your experience in the comments.

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