Editing is a lot more complicated than one would imagine. Not only is it a multi-layered process involving the author and sometimes as many as three different people, but there are also a number of different types of editing. It can get down-right confusing!

There was recently a great article published by the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), of which I’m a member, which explains the different types of editing. I’m going to quickly summarize it for you here and then go a touch further because I think it’s incredibly important for all authors to understand all that editing is and what it can do for you and your writing.

So, in the article, the author starts out with the most basic type of editing and then moves to more detailed types. I’m going to do the opposite.

Developmental or Substantive Editing: This is the most in-depth type of editing you can get (and the most expensive). A developmental editor will look at the larger picture of your story and characters. They’ll analyze your writing craft (story structure, character development, use of setting, etc.). They’ll not only check to see that your characters grow by the end of the story but look for plot holes and make sure your story hangs together and works as a whole. They might even suggest major re-writes or for you to delete whole chapters of your book. You should look at this sort of editing as not just someone helping you to make this one book great, but as a private writing lesson where you’ll learn how to improve your overall writing craft. Looking at it this way also helps swallow the very large bill you’ll get at the end (usually well over $1000).

Copyediting (or Copy-editing): This type of editing doesn’t so much look at the big picture of your writing craft, as it does as the minutiae of your writing: your grammar, your sentence structure—the flow of your writing. While a developmental editor will look at the really big picture, a copyeditor will make sure your story is easily understandable and that your characters’ actions make sense in the context of the story. They might make suggestions on your word-choice or even suggest that you remove unnecessary, redundant, or repetitive words. A copyeditor will check for POV consistency, passive voice, and suggest deleting garbage words. They will also check for character consistency—if your heroine has green eyes in chapter one, that they haven’t suddenly turned brown in chapter twenty; if there is a dog named Spot at the beginning, that his name hasn’t changed to Rover by the end. This type of editing costs much less. A copyeditor will either charge by the page (a standard font, one-inch margins, double spaced), the word, or the hour. Depending on the editor and how much work your book needs (or how long it is), expect to pay anywhere from $200-700.

Proofreading: This is the last thing that you should have done to your book before it’s formatted and published. It’s the most basic read-through for typos and spelling mistakes. A proofreader will also check for basic grammar errors like comma placement, dangling modifiers, and punctuation mistakes. This sort of editing is usually the least expensive. Proofreaders will usually either charge by the word or the page. If your book is really riddled with mistakes and needs a lot of work, they could charge by the hour. Expect to pay $100-400.

Beta-reading: This isn’t actually a type of editing, but I feel that it should be mentioned here because it’s a vital part of the publishing process. This isn’t done by a professional, but a reader—your typical reader. A good beta-reader isn’t (or shouldn’t) be looking for grammatical mistakes, and they usually aren’t qualified to do so. That being said, I have had some beta-readers offer to proofread for me, and some even do a good job (some offer and don’t do such a good job, so do take their suggestions as just that a suggestion that you don’t need to follow because it may not actually be accurate). The one thing that a beta-reader brings to your manuscript that your editor(s) might not is how your ordinary reader will understand and interact with your book. Don’t hesitate to ask them to tell you how engaged they were at different points in the book (especially after the first chapter and after the third, which is where readers tend to stop reading if you haven’t thoroughly caught their interest). A beta-reader can tell you how likable your characters are and how believable. But what’s most important is that they feel they can give you their unbiased opinion. Be sure to thank them no matter how critical they are of your work—and do take it as constructive criticism. They’re there to help you make your book better from a reader’s standpoint. Beta-readers read for free, but be kind and offer them either another book of yours for free (if they haven’t yet read it) or a gift card.

No book should be published without at least one other person reading through it. You are the author of the book. You’ve probably read through your book many, many times. You won’t see your mistakes. Even if you, yourself are a professional editor or have studied grammar and writing for years, you still need to have your book professionally edited by someone else.

The definitions of different types of editing can be fluid. Have you heard of other descriptions of editing? Please, don’t hesitate to share!