What’s the difference?

Write without fear. Edit without mercy.

Editing is not just about finding and correcting typos. Your editor may be able to do all sorts of things for your manuscript and for your writing: from correcting spelling and punctuation errors to plot and character development.

Some people like to refer to these as different “levels” of editing. I prefer to see them as different stages of the editing process. Your book may have all three, two or just one stage of editing. But it is important that you give it at least one round of editing to a professional editor. Another pair of eyes, especially one that has been trained to do it, is crucial for getting your words in order for your reader.

There are as many different definitions for these services as there are people who provide the services. That’s why it is important to get to know your editor and to have an idea about what you want to achieve from the editing process.

This post gives an idea about the different services that I offer but for more information you can get in touch to discuss your requirements.

Developmental editing

This is great if you have time and you want detailed input into the story. That’s not to say that your editor will rewrite your story but they can make really detailed suggestions about plot and character that you can then use in redrafting your story. Development could be focussed, such as the use of dialogue or emotion, or could be more general, such as looking at the settings, descriptions and pace.

The very nature of this type of edit means that it takes time. The editor is reading carefully and considering what is best for your story, where there are weaker points and how to overcome them.

I understand the concerns you as a writer are feeling at this point. You’ve spent hours carefully honing your manuscript and it can feel like you are not part of the process as this point. Think of it as a collaboration: we both want the best story to be told and developmental editing is the way to do it.


Copyediting, sometimes called line-editing, like developmental editing, works with the text of your manuscript. Now, the editor is looking for spelling, punctuation and grammar errors as well as any inconsistencies and inaccuracies.

Inconsistencies – which will be another blog post soon talking about the wonders of a style sheet – can be things like spelling inconsistencies (because some words get spelt differently but both are correct), character or plot inconsistencies (hang on a minute – didn’t he have red hair in chapter six?) or inconsistencies with formatting (we’ll drink at five o’clock then get on the 18:00 train).

The copyediting process is also really good for picking up on unclear sentences and points in your story that are difficult for the reader to follow. It could be that the point of view has switched without you noticing, this is sometimes called “head-hopping” and can be confusing for the reader. Or maybe the flow or tone changes, again causing confusion for the reader.

With good copyediting, your reader never knows. Without copyediting, the reader spots the errors immediately.


This is the very last stage and is the last possible chance to pick up on errors and typos. Typically, the proofread will take place on the final, formatting and designed pages of your book or e-book.

Because of this, the proofreader is not making significant changes to the text but is looking out for any last errors that have crept in during the design phase. There could be some spelling, punctuation or grammar errors to mark-up* but, hopefully, all of the text makes sense, is clear and consistent and is nearly ready for publication.

Other things that a proofread will check are things that are frequently overlooked: the running heads, the page numbers, the content page, captions in illustrations. These are usually inserted at the design phase after the manuscript has been copyediting, so it is really important that a fresh pair of eyes gets to see these elements of your book.

*You’ll see that I used “mark-up” here. Usually, proofreading is done with final pages not on raw text so rather than make changes, a proofreader will use a series of marks and symbols to show where changes need to be made.

Further reading

This fact sheet from the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (the CIEP) gives a really easy to follow guide on the differences between proofreading and copyediting.

Of course, you can always get in touch to discuss your requirements and to talk about your project. I am always happy to answer questions about editing! This is a very brief overview of the services that I can offer. If you are self-publishing or traditional publishing, your requirements may be very different, so please, find out more today and get in touch! I look forward to hearing from you.

Still not sure? Why not try for free!

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Published by Nick Taylor | Editor & Proofreader

Fiction editor and proofreader.

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