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The Ultimate Guide
to the levels of editing

Congratulations! All that love, sweat, and probably tears, has finally paid off.

You’ve finished writing and completed your editing. You’ve gone through your trusty Word spelling and grammar check, run it through Grammarly, and you’re done. At least you think you are. Until someone asks you what a particular sentence meant, or why you started where you did, or why your text lacks impact. Maybe you need an editor.

It’s simple, right? Hire an editor and they check for all those weird mistakes that Word doesn’t pick up. After a few Google searches, you probably realised it’s not that easy! Suddenly you aren’t even sure which type of editing you need. Is it:

● Substantive
● Structural
● Proofreading
● Copy Editing
● Line Editing
● Content Editing
● Comprehensive
● Developmental

Uhh… what?!

Finding your first editor doesn’t need to be overwhelming. In fact, a few of those editing types are exactly the same.

I created this ultimate guide to take a deeper look at each level of editing and help you decide which level (or levels) would be most beneficial to you.

Let’s start with boiling it all down.

IPed (The Institute of Professional Editors) list only 3 levels of editing on their website. These 3 levels are what most professional editors offer.


The Three Levels of Editing


That narrows down the options a bit.

Most books make their way through each level of editing.

This is to ensure that every aspect of your novel will resonate with (and make sense to) your audience. Have you ever read a book and wondered why a subplot wasn’t wrapped up, or how a character’s eye colour changed halfway through?

That happens when an author skipped an editing level or chose to bypass an independent editor altogether. That’s not to say an editor will get it right every time, but the extra pair of professional eyes that one (or two) editors provide will ensure an enjoyable reading experience.

Keep on reading for a closer look at what an editor will assess in each stage.


Substantive Editing: Not as Scary as it Sounds


The term “substantive editing” can seem a little scary. It’s no wonder that a lot of writers are anxious about putting their hard work into someone else’s hands!

Substantive editing does not mean that you work will be returned to you as something different, nor does it mean that you will lose any creative control.

It’s important to remember that an editor should be a partner, not a boss. 


What is Substantive Editing?


Editors perform substantive editing on both fiction and non-fiction works. This level of editing is the most thorough.

Substantive editing looks at every element in a text. That includes overall structure, the content, language and style, and presentation.

In a textbook, a substantive edit may involve rearranging chapters to enhance the reader’s experience and learning.   In fiction, it may involve adding to or eliminating elements of the plot. For a blog post, this could mean suggesting a change in tone or style to better connect with the reader and achieve more conversions. It might even mean introducing or removing particular paragraphs.

For more information on what is included in a substantive edit, and who may benefit from such a service, contact me today.



Copy editing: Not A Glorified Spell Check


Where a substantive edit takes a very broad view of the text (almost like a landscape photograph), the copy edit begins to ‘zoom in’ on the details.

A copy edit analyses each line, not just spelling and grammar.

Ignoring a copy edit results in common mistakes like these 30 that are easy to miss when editing your own work but will jump out at your readers.


What is a copy edit?


An editor performing a copy edit will look at language, consistency, and accuracy.

As the copy editor begins to take a closer look at the text, spelling and grammar are checked. The copy editor will correct all errors that they are able to find.

The copy editor will make sure that all elements of the text are consistent, and that the language and style are suitable for the target audience.

Although both “email” and “e-mail” may be correct, they should not both be used within the same text. The copy editor will consult the style guide to make a decision, and then make sure that each instance of the word is the same.

The copy editor also checks the text for accuracy. This is extremely important for non-fiction works, as the editor will ensure that quotes are accurate and are attributed appropriately.

Accuracy is also important for fiction works. Have you ever read a book that included a fact, perhaps about a place that you know, that made you stop and think “that’s definitely wrong”? Any statements regarding dates, names, and places, should be verified by the copy editor.

Need a professional copy editor? Contact me today.


Proofreading: Now it’s real!


Having been through the first two levels of editing, a text should be almost ready for publication.

The content should now be stylised, and the document will look just as it should once it’s been published. That includes copyright pages, titles, heading styles, fonts, margins, and all the creative stuff.

Now the proofreader steps in – they’ll be the last eyes on the page before it hits publication.


What is proofreading?


Proofreading is the last step. Realistically, there should be little to no errors in the document. If the proofreader spies too many things that need editing at this point, they will often suggest sending the text back for copy editing.

A proofreader is not a copy editor! The proofreader won’t make suggestions regarding the flow of the text or even the content.

Instead, they will flag any missing materials, ensure that all previous editing suggestions have been accepted and implemented, and check for lingering spelling and grammatical mistakes.

Additionally, the proofreader will check that there are no errors in style. They will mark any widows or orphans that should be deleted, that everything is correctly typeset and that the style guide has been clearly implemented.

Once the proofreader gives the okay, it’s time to publish!

If you think you’re ready for the proofreading stage, send me a message.


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