What are the types of fiction editing?

April 28th, 2020 by Jane Turner


‘It just needs a proofread for typos.’

Actually, no – it needs much more than that!


There are, essentially, three different types of fiction editing that your book should undergo after your self-edit.

  • Developmental / structural
  • Copy/Line
  • Proofreading

Some will add a fourth level by splitting Copy and Line editing into two different tasks, but I find it reasonable to keep them together, as that’s what I offer.

Note, though, that these are only for fiction – non-fiction requires a couple of extra steps: indexing and fact-checking.

Let’s have a look at what these three types of fiction editing involve, so you can be sure to receive an accurate quote for services you require.

Scrabble tiles spelling 'Words'

Developmental (or Structural) Editing

This is the ‘big picture’ edit. Your developmental editor will review your book for structure, plot, character development, world-building and dialogue, to name a few.

A developmental editor will advise you on:

  • plot holes,
  • scenes to change/cut or expand,
  • chapters to cut,
  • paragraphs to move, and
  • whether your dialogue suits characters you’ve created and/or the situations.

You’ll also get advice on whether your characters are dimensional, relatable and fit the roles you intend (Does your anti-hero need more anti? Is your villain needing a dose of antagonism?)

33 South Textworks does not yet offer full developmental editing, though we can advise on flow and structure as part of our copy editing services. If you require a developmental edit, we can refer you to trusted colleagues.


Copy / Line Editing

There is debate and discussion on whether Copy and Line editing are the same service, with compelling arguments for both sides. Traditionally, a copy edit focuses more on errors and consistency, while a line edit will focus on prose and grammar. Personally, I can’t look at grammar without looking at prose. I think copy and line edits are connected on various levels and should be treated as one service, which is how I explain it here.

Your copyeditor examines your manuscript line by line, sentence by sentence, checking:

  • consistency (Wasn’t their car blue a couple of chapters ago? I’m sure Mr Philbin was spelled differently on page 18),
  • grammar (she could care less, actually),
  • accuracy (Pre-1992 Volkswagons did not have airbags),
  • readability (does the brain ‘trip over’ anything?), and
  • flow (perhaps that chapter is better here?)

Your copyeditor will adhere to your Style Sheet and preferred Style Guide, or create a Style Sheet for you if you don’t have one.

As a copyedit makes line-level changes to your document, expect quite a bit of markup when your document is returned! See my blog post on What happens during an edit for more info on how I work.

A copyedit will catch typos and transpositions, but there is no substitute for a final Proofread.


After the copyedit, send your book for a Beta read. Check my Services page or my post on self-editing for information on Beta reading.



Proofreading is the final stage before publication: the final chance to fix typos, punctuation, and formatting issues. A proofread should only be undertaken if the manuscript has already been extensively edited and, ideally, already been through a Beta read stage.

Proofreading does not make substantive changes to the text, which is why it’s usually done on work already typeset/formatted.


Note: I will not proofread manuscripts I have copy edited. The best way to get an effective proofread is to come to the text cold—and text I have previously copy edited will be familiar, therefore I’ll be more likely to miss things.


For more information on how I can help with your manuscript, see my Services page.


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