Developmental Editing, Line Editing, Copy Editing and Proofreading Explained

By Chris Olsen

Throughout the evolution of writing a book, from first draft to final product, your writing will undergo many transformations. This includes everything from multiple author drafts and revisions undertaken alone or with the help of trusted teachers and readers, to more formal edits once a manuscript is accepted for publication by a publisher.

Book editing occurs in stages. To meet publishing industry standards, a book must go through at least three stages of professional editing—developmental editing, copy editing and proofreading. Publish Her takes it a step further by adding line editing to the process. Understanding these different types of edits will give you an idea of what to expect throughout your publishing journey.

Developmental Editing

Developmental editing comes before line editing, copy editing and proofreading. Some manuscripts do not require developmental editing, such as those written by a seasoned author. These instances are the exception, though, not the rule.

Developmental editing’s focus is on strengthening the bigger-picture content and structure of a manuscript. Readability is the guiding force at this stage. A developmental editor pays attention to whether your opening chapters work to effectively set up the book and make a reader want to keep reading, whether subsequent chapters flow logically from one to the next, and whether the ending feels complete and delivers the promised “payoff.” This applies whether the purpose of your book is to tell a story, as in fiction or memoir, or to convey specialized knowledge or researched information about a given topic.

Line Editing

Line editing comes after developmental editing and before copy editing. At this stage, the editor reviews the manuscript line by line, looking at the use of language at the sentence and paragraph level. A line editor considers point of view, if it’s consistent, and whether shifts are logical. They assess tone, whether the words used in a passage express the intended tone, and if the tone of the book is consistent overall. They look at language preciseness, including how sentences fit together and flow from one to the next. They pay attention to the pacing throughout. They keep an eye out for unnecessary repetition, digressions and cliches.

When working with a publisher, the approach to both developmental and line editing is usually a collaboration between editor and writer. The editor endeavors to honor the author’s unique voice and style. They highlight the manuscript’s strengths and point out potential areas for improvement. Authors typically weigh in on the developmental and line edits suggested for the book.

Copy Editing

While developmental and line editing are more art than science, copy editing and proofreading address the more technical aspects of writing. Both occur closer to the end of the publishing process; however, they are distinctly different. Copy editing is largely concerned with polishing the final draft of the manuscript. Copy editors look at things like syntax and grammar. They ensure the language in the book follows the rules of standard American English and that it adheres to a specific editorial style guide—a document that outlines the framework for copy editing and proofreading. Publishers tend to follow the standards of professional style guides like the Chicago Manual of Style and the Associated Press Stylebook, but they may amend or add guidelines. Ask your publisher for the style guide that will be used for your book.

Copy editing requires a specific skillset and level of expertise—even prize-winning writers rely on copy editors to make their work better. During the publishing process, authors don’t typically weigh in on copy edits, though a copy editor may make you aware of specific issues they have addressed.


Proofreading is the last phase of editing and happens after the designer typesets the book pages, which are called galleys or page proofs (hence the name “proofreading”). Proofreading involves undertaking a careful review of the entire text and looking for typos and errors. Oftentimes, the author and proofreader work simultaneously at this stage. In some cases, authors receive page proofs after they have gone through an initial round of proofreading and proof corrections. Either way, you play a significant role in ensuring your book is ready for publishing. While you should review proofs with the utmost care and attention, at this point in the process, changes are limited to typographical errors. This final stage of the publishing process provides the opportunity to confirm that the final manuscript has been converted with accuracy to the typeset page. However, proofreading does not allow for revising or rewriting text.

By familiarizing yourself with these phases of editing, you’ll have a better idea of what to expect at each stage of the publishing process, and you’ll be poised to understand the degree and kinds of changes that can be made at each phase.

About the Author

Chris Olsen is a broadcast media veteran turned communications consultant, educator and the author of “Whyography: Building a Brand Fueled by Purpose.” The founder of Publish Her and Publish Her Story, Chris has helped thousands of women tell their stories and publish their books.

About Publish Her

Publish Her is a female-founded publisher dedicated to elevating the words, writing and stories of women. We are passionate about amplifying the voices of women of color, women with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ+ community. We aim to make publishing an attainable, exciting and collaborative process for all.


Previous Post
Collage Your Cover Workshop – Apr. 4 at ModernWell
Next Post
Join Publish Her on May 9th for the Launch of ‘Missing Pieces,’ a Minnesota-Based Murder Mystery by Multi-Award-Winning Author Kathryn Schleich

Related Posts