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The Stages of Editing Every Writer Needs to Know

    One of the things I’ve noticed when it comes to new writers trying to get published is that they don’t really understand the editing process. A lot of the time, the end result is that writers undervalue how editing can help with their book’s success. 

    Of course, this statement isn’t true of all writers. However, with the emergence of AI and AI-written books, I think it’s an important reminder that human editors are key to a successful book. 

    And I’m going to tell you how, so that you, if you’re a writer, understand how you can maintain your relationship with your audience despite AI.

    For starters, there is an order in which writers should have their books edited in order to avoid having to pay for extra services. And while editing services from experienced editors aren’t cheap, your readers will love you for it.

    I’m going to use my terms for editing services, but keep in mind that different editors and different publishers use different terms for the same services. It’d be nice if the terms were standardized, right? But they’re not. So, for now, it is what it is. 

    Because terms vary so widely for editors and publishers, pay attention to the services that are included under each term to find the service that works for you.

    Editing at any stage requires a tough skin, so be prepared. The editors providing these services aren’t trying to make writers feel bad. Judging and making a writer feel bad aren’t an editor’s intention.

    Editors try to make writers aware of problems in the manuscript that they may not have noticed. That’s it. Editing should be a collaboration, not a fight. It’s important for every writer to find an editor who works well with them and their content.

    I will say this one thing, though. Good editors cost money. They are an investment in a writer’s (and the book’s) success.

    So let’s dive in to the basics of editing.

    Manuscript Evaluation

    This is a personal opinion, and there are those who may disagree with me, but I think a manuscript evaluation is your first step in the official editorial process. 

    In a manuscript evaluation, the editor reads over your manuscript and provides you with a report of things that work well and things that could use improvement. 

    It’s a bird’s-eye overview of a manuscript, and the editor tells the writer about big-picture changes that the writer should think about when working on the next draft.

    A manuscript evaluation is usually less expensive than a developmental edit because it doesn’t involve the editor reworking text and includes a much shorter editorial letter than what’s typically included in a developmental edit.

    That said, it still helps writers make (necessary) major changes to their manuscript. 

    So, if you’re a writer looking to save money, look into manuscript evaluation services, because you can still get the most important info you need to improve your book.

    Something to keep in mind: Line editing, copyediting, and proofreading (I’ll talk about these services later) do not happen at this stage of the editing process. 

    That means no rewording of confusing sentences, and no checking for typos or grammar mistakes. These services happen after manuscript evaluation or developmental editing takes place.

    Developmental Editing

    A developmental edit is similar to a manuscript evaluation in that it’s a broad overview of the manuscript, and the writer receives a report of what’s good and what needs improvement. 

    The main difference between a manuscript evaluation and a developmental edit is the level of detail provided in the final report. While a writer may receive a report of ~5 pages for a manuscript evaluation, writers can expect a report closer to 20 pages for a developmental edit.

    After all, the devil is in the details.

    The notes and recommendations are far more detailed for a developmental edit compared to a manuscript evaluation. During the developmental editing process, the editor may move sentences, paragraphs, and even chapters around to help with the flow of ideas. 

    The changes tend to be more intimate and drastic than in a manuscript evaluation.

    Not everyone needs both a manuscript evaluation and developmental edit. It’s up to the writer to decide what makes sense for their budget, timeline, and project. But these are two options for any writer needing a bird’s-eye view of their project. 

    Again, keep in mind that line editing, copyediting, and proofreading do not happen at this stage of the editing process.

    Line Editing

    To be fair, line editing is part of copyediting. But it’s very intensive and more time consuming, so some editors (like myself) like to separate it out into a distinct service. 

    Line editing is what happens at the sentence and paragraph level to improve comprehension and flow. During line editing, editors focus on confusing word choice, sentence structure, and paragraph organization, and do their best to improve flow and readability.

    Not every writer needs line editing services, but it’s a helpful service if the rules of sentence structure aren’t a writer’s strong suit. Line editing helps smooth out awkward or complex sentences to aid in readability and comprehension.

    It can be an intimate process that requires a thick skin. But the thing to keep in mind is that your editor wants to make sure your reader understands what you (the writer) want to say. 


    Copyediting involves fixing technical errors according to a specific style guide or client preferences.

    These are the main things that a copy editor does:

    • offer suggestions
    • make grammatical and technical changes
    • leave comments about problems in a sentence or ways to improve the sentence
    • focus on grammar, punctuation, word choice, and if there’s something critically wrong with a sentence

    But it gets interesting because different editors may offer different levels of copyediting. 

    They may offer heavy editing, where they rework sentence for flow (i.e., line editing), medium editing (you’ll need to talk to your preferred editor to find out their definition of a medium edit), and a light edit (basically just a proofread with a few bonuses thrown in).

    Again, it’s important to talk to your editor to find out what their services are and how they can fit your needs.


    Proofreading is the stage of editing that people most confuse with copyediting. Proofreading is the last stage. The very last stage. It’s the editor looking for egregious errors: the stuff that the average reader is going to notice but that might have been missed.

    Proofreading is checking for only the errors that every Tom, Dick, Harry, and their mom are going to notice. 

    The term “proofreading” dates back centuries. Way back in the day, folks used to create copies of books by copying them by hand. So proofreading at that time was checking the new copied manuscript against the old to make sure there were no errors. 

    Then in the age of the printing press, proofreading became the term for checking pages for typesetting errors. (Check out Wikipedia’s post about typesetting for more info.) 

    But let’s be honest. In our modern world, most people use the terms proofreading and copyediting interchangeably (and incorrectly). It’s up to editors to define what their proofreading (and copyediting) services entail.

    And it’s up to writers to make sure they understand what services they are looking for.

    Proofreading is not copyediting. Copyediting is not proofreading.

    Still, it’s important for writers to communicate with their editor to decide what their manuscript needs.

    Honorable Mentions

    I’m including alpha and beta reading because they have an important purpose in a writer’s self-editing process. Trained editors aren’t always involved in either of these services. 

    In fact, most often alpha and beta readers are folks from the general public who choose to dedicate their time to reading new books. These services are simply meant to provide the writer with feedback that they can choose to implement and use for self-editing.

    Alpha Reading

    Once your manuscript is written, in an ideal world, it will go for an alpha read. This process doesn’t have to be super formal, but it has to be with people whom you (as the writer) trust to give honest and useful feedback. 

    That can include friends, family members, coworkers, or whomever you trust. You can also hire alpha readers, but I suggest hiring a few so that you can see if there are similar themes from the different readers. 

    This is also where a manuscript evaluation comes into play. Don’t want to get several alpha readers? Get manuscript evaluation services from an editor.

    Beta Reading

    A beta read happens after trusted friends and family have looked over the text, and changes have been implemented. At least some eyes have been on the manuscript, and any changes from trusted readers have been made. 

    By the beta reading stage, a writer should have an idea of what their book is about and who their target audience is. Some writers may choose to do a beta read instead of developmental editing. 

    Valid option. But any writer choosing this route should make sure to get feedback from several beta readers. Again, beta readers aren’t always trained editors; a lot of the time, they are people who like to read. 

    That’s not a bad thing, but it also means that they aren’t trained to pick up on the issues that a developmental editor is trained to notice. 

    So, as a writer, if you choose to go the route of beta readers, it’s good to get feedback from several beta readers in order to see the similar trends in feedback. That way, you know what changes need to be made

    The point in mentioning all this is to show that editing involves more than fixing a misspelled word or a misplaced comma. There are plenty of tech and AI tools available for that. 

    Editors collaborate with writers to make sure their stories are being told in a way that their readers will enjoy. Editors help with word choice and sentence structure. They aid in organizing paragraphs and plot. An editor can point out where content is repetitive and offer a fix. 

    In other words, editors can point out issues that a writer may not know exists, but a reader will likely notice. Yeah, editing services can get expensive, especially for a writer needing multiple services or multiple rounds of editing. 

    But the service is an investment in the future success of the writer’s work. So, while the average reader won’t care too much about the occasional typo, they will care about a sentence, a paragraph, a plot, or a story that they can’t understand. 

    That’s what your editor is there to find and help fix.

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