Even those of us who edit for a living can have trouble figuring out what it entails. We debate amongst ourselves what the difference is between developmental editing and substantive editing, and question where copyediting ends and line editing begins. The whole mess is even harder for the uninitiated to figure out. The lines are a bit blurry, but here’s how I define them.

Manuscript Evaluation

Also known as a critique, a manuscript evaluation will let you know whether your book is ready for submission or publication. You don’t need to have a finished draft; the evaluation can be performed on a partial manuscript. As I do your evaluation, I’ll use the same checklist I use to verify my work on books I edit. I’ll prepare a written report outlining the book’s strengths and weaknesses and offering recommendations for improvement. I may also make changes or comments in your manuscript.

Brainstorming and Coaching

Sometimes, you just need someone to bounce ideas off of. Maybe you’re stuck on a plot point for a novel, or need some good topics for your blog. Or you’ve been told you should write a book, but don’t know where to start. Start here.

Developmental Editing

This stage is about bringing a manuscript into existence. We’ll look at the big picture, outlining your content and creating a structure that will ensure the work gives readers what they need in the most appropriate format. If you’ve already written a partial manuscript, the developmental edit will flesh it out and ensure it meets readers’ expectations. A developmental edit may include ghostwriting or substantive editing.

Ghostwriting & Copywriting

If you have a great idea but don’t have time to write it all out, this may be the service you need. We’ll discuss your goals and what you may have in the way of preliminary research and notes. I’ll pick your brain and do the writing for you. The only real difference between ghostwriting and copywriting is that in ghostwriting, the writing appears with the hiring author’s byline instead of the ghostwriter’s, while copy, which is usually promotional, appears with no byline at all. Either way, you retain all rights to the finished work.

Substantive Editing

This is similar to developmental editing, but it entails working on a completed manuscript. We’ll mold the content into an appropriate structure. For fiction, we’ll ensure that all the elements are in place. For nonfiction, we’ll ensure that readers’ likely questions are answered. A substantive edit may include rewriting whole scenes or segments for clarity and concision. It can also include line editing.

Line Editing

Rather than merely fixing errors, a line editor rewrites sentences to improve readability, flow, and rhythm, as well as to eliminate wordiness and redundancies. A line edit includes copyediting.


Unlike line editing, the copyedit focuses on correcting errors in spelling, punctuation, grammar, syntax, and usage. A copyeditor usually has less leeway than a line editor when it comes to rewriting awkward sentences that are grammatically correct. Copyediting includes what we call mechanical matters: formatting, style of footnote and bibliography citations, and other conventions. It can also include fact checking.


Many people use the word proofreading to describe what we in the business call copyediting. In fact, true proofreading is done after pages are typeset, before printing or e-book distribution. It involves checking the page proofs for problems introduced during typesetting, such as bad hyphenation breaks and misaligned margins, along with spelling and punctuation errors. Proofreaders do not normally fix grammatical or factual errors unless they are really egregious.


There is some overlap among line editing, copyediting, and proofreading. For example, all include taking care of pesky details like ensuring plural possessives of surnames ending in s are formed correctly.

If you’re self-publishing, ideally you will put your manuscript through most of the levels of editing. If you need to contain costs, we can combine line editing with either a substantive edit or a copyedit.

Under no circumstances skip proofreading. And don’t try to do it yourself. No one can proofread their own work. Not even those of us who edit for a living. I recommend having your book proofread by at least one person who has not seen the manuscript before. Three is better. Eight is not too many.

E-mail me to get a quote on your editing or writing project. My rates are in line with those of other freelance editors, which you can see in this chart by the Editorial Freelancers Association.