A Guide for Authors: What Type of Editing Do You Need? 

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Every author needs an editor, but not every editor does the same job. Before you go out and hire one, you have to know what type of editing is best for your manuscript in its current form. Most likely, you’ll go through multiple rounds of editing, taking advantage of different types of services throughout your writing venture.

Getting objective feedback on a manuscript is an essential step in any writer’s publishing journey—even the world’s top authors rely on professional editors to get their manuscripts in excellent shape. However, there are multiple types of editing services, and it can be hard to know which one you need. Determining what is right for you depends on what stage of the writing process you’re currently at and what your manuscript needs to really shine. 

There are editing services to help you in just about any leg of your writing adventure. Whether you’ve just finished the first draft of your manuscript or are getting ready to self-publish, check out our services for authors to find the right one for you. 

Let’s take a closer look at the four main types of editing services available to writers.

Manuscript critique

A manuscript critique, also known as an editorial assessment, is for authors with completed first drafts who need help fixing broader, structural issues to take their manuscript to the next level. They will receive feedback that helps them eliminate plot holes, improve character arcs, streamline the structure, and address any other big-picture weaknesses they may have missed. 

An editorial assessment is most helpful for authors who are still in the early stages of their work and need an objective critique on any broad issues (including dialogue and structural cohesiveness), as well as targeted feedback about details readers and publishers might struggle with. This isn’t the stage to worry about your typos or awkward phrasing—you first have to eliminate all the plot inconsistencies and resolve character development issues, and a manuscript critique is a great way to help you identify the reasons your story isn’t all it could be and the ways to improve it.

To ensure your manuscript critique serves as a roadmap for crafting a clear and organized second draft, your editor will typically deliver a multi-page editorial letter outlining your manuscript’s strengths and weaknesses and will offer a plan to fix the issues so you can shape your book into the best possible version of itself. 

A manuscript critique is an overview—your editor may inform you that the message of your story is unclear, that a particular character seems superfluous, or that a given subplot isn’t working well with the main narrative, and they’ll provide suggestions for addressing these issues. If the advice in a manuscript critique is too broad for your taste, big-picture editing may be more the thing you need.

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Big-picture editing

Big-picture editing, also known as developmental editing, is similar to a manuscript critique but with much more detail. Also for authors who have completed the first draft of their manuscript, developmental editing aims to help them shape their ideas, narrative, and themes as well as fix plot holes, shaky character arcs, and structural issues. A big-picture edit identifies the same sort of narrative issues a manuscript critique does, but it dives much deeper into the specifics, pinpointing which sections, chapters, and paragraphs aren’t all they could be and providing an actionable plan to fix them.

Developmental editing looks at the larger picture and analyzes whether the story as a whole—the characters’ motivations and behavior, the underlying themes and messages, and the purpose of every scene—works cohesively and whether the writing is clear and concise. This is still not the type of editing concerned with your typos and grammar slips—that comes after you’ve handled all the narrative problems because manuscript critique and big-picture editing tend to trigger significant rewriting.

The main difference between a manuscript critique and big-picture editing is that the latter includes numerous developmental notes in the margins of your manuscript in addition to an editorial letter. If the advice in a manuscript critique is too vague or you don’t know how to implement your editor’s suggestions, a big-picture edit provides the same guidance in a much more user-friendly format.

Click here to learn more about our big-picture editing services. 

Paragraph and sentence editing

This service, also known as combined proofreading and editing, is for authors who have already addressed the big-picture issues and have finished any rewriting suggested by their developmental editor. If you have a full draft that still needs work on things such as spelling, grammar, word choice, punctuation, and sentence structure, this is the editing service for you. It’s what people usually imagine when they think of editing—a language expert tackling all the linguistic issues in your manuscript.

This detail-oriented service is perfect for authors in the final stages of revisions who want a comprehensive check of their manuscript to improve the style and correct mechanical errors such as capitalization and word repetition before sharing their work with beta readers, agents, or publishers. Paragraph and sentence editing isn’t just about typos and grammatical errors, though—your editor will also look at clarity, consistency, flow, structure, and other linguistic issues at the paragraph and sentence level to help you tighten up your writing.

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Proofreading is the final stage in the editing process and is recommended only after your manuscript has been fully edited and needs nothing more than a final check for minor errors before you self-publish or query an agent. Proofreading aims to catch stubborn errors that have slipped through all the other rounds of editing, and it is only meant for manuscripts that need no further revision.

Skilled proofreaders are experts at catching typos, missing words, inconsistencies, and spelling mistakes that can spoil a reader’s experience. Such errors are distracting and make you appear sloppy and unprofessional, tainting your audience’s opinion of you and your book. Proofreaders will also make sure captions, page numbers, and page breaks are all standardized and correct. 

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Publishing a book is a long, complex process that doesn’t stop at finishing a manuscript, which is why having the support of an editorial team is crucial to any author’s success. Although self-editing is also an integral part of the process, it’s not enough if you want to publish something that’s error-free and up to industry standards. Even if you really know your grammar, it’s worth hiring a professional editor because you’re simply too familiar with your own work to edit it effectively.

Have a look at our services for authors, and if you’re still not sure which one is for you, take our 20-second editorial needs quiz

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