Masterful writing isn’t just about telling a story.

It’s about finding the most effective language to tell that story.

Getting your first draft down is just the beginning; it’s only after this that the real work begins.

I’ve written about developmental editing before, and it’s indispensable when you’re in the early stages of your manuscript.

What is developmental editing?

Developmental editing is a thorough evaluation of what your work needs in order to be ready for publishing.

It addresses various story elements, like plot holes, poor character development, phrasing, confusing dialogue, and any other issues that come up in relation to the story elements.

The focus of developmental editing is to improve the big picture and make sure that the story has a logical progression.

Developmental editing can be done at any point in the process of writing the manuscript but is typically sought after the manuscript is finished.

Since developmental editing typically results in a series of rewrites, it’s best to do it before fine-tuning or proofreading because any polishing you do may be undone by the revisions.

Every author’s process is different.

Some authors like to have a developmental editor to work with early on in the writing process, to help them solidify the broader ideas of the story.

Others won’t involve a developmental editor until they’ve already finished several revisions themselves and possibly had the text read by peers.

Regardless of when you choose to do it, the developmental edit is a crucial part of the writing process and will help you evaluate the state of your work.

What is copy editing?

The text of your book or manuscript is known as the ‘copy’.

Copy editing will address grammatical and punctuation errors, incorrect facts, inconsistencies, glaring typos and other anomalies present in your copy.

The purpose of the copy edit is to ensure that the language supports your intent as the writer while also creating the most readable version of your book.

Copy editors make sure your text is clean and has good flow but won’t go into big-picture issues (plot, pacing, characterisation etc.).

They’ll catch when your protagonist’s coffee cup suddenly has tea in it, eliminate redundancies, and save your style and tone from unintentional wild shifts between sections.

Using various references as guides, copy editors will correct errors and fix inconsistencies in details like:

  • number treatment; should it be a numeral or spelt out?
  • compound words; should it be open, closed, or hyphenated?
  • punctuation; should it be a comma or semicolon?

To keep track of the styles in use in a single manuscript, copy editors create a style sheet as they edit. This helps them maintain consistency and communicate a manuscript’s style to the author and future proofreaders.

A novel’s style sheet includes things like notes on typography, punctuation, numbers, and spellings; a list of characters, real people, and places; and a timeline of events.

What is line editing?

Line editing is a more in-depth version of copy editing, which improves the style, readability and clarity of your manuscript.

A line editor will analyse your story on a sentence level and look at elements like word choice, voice and syntax to help make your copy truly sing.

When you value your voice as a writer, line editing is essential.

Both copy and line editing aim to produce more readable prose, but line editing is the more nuanced of the two.

In the UK, line editing is more akin to proofreading, while in the US it’s an intermediary step between developmental and copy editing, so make sure you know what you’re buying when you hire an editor.

Line editing will:

  • Trim the fat for a smoother reading experience
  • Strengthen the prose with more descriptive word choices
  • Improves the flow of the text by correcting mood and tone
  • Fill in gaps that can confuse the reader

No matter how you choose to do your editing, having others look at your work is a critical part of the process of creating publishable work.