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  • Writer's pictureAmanda Clemmer

Proofreading, Copy Editing, And Developmental Editing: What You Need And What The Difference Is

First the bad news: Editing is critical to your success.

And no, reading out loud to yourself is not good enough.

Self-published authors across the board agree on the importance of getting a quality editing job for your book. Even if your natural editing skills are fantastic—even if you’ve worked as a freelance editor yourself—it’s impossible to be objective about your own work, period. Other readers are critical to the success of your book, and a professional editor will go a long way.

If you’re starting out and still getting a feel for your own writing, different editors might help you learn where your relative strengths and weaknesses are. That’s important to know, but since professional editors have to charge for services, you can easily fall into debt if you spend your time getting second and third opinions, not to mention the extra time so much editing will take. If you’re looking to publish multiple books a year, three or more editors might set you too far behind to be able to catch up or maintain a workable pace.

Now the good news: You don’t have to run your books by three separate editors for a quality job.

Most full-time self-published writers stick to one trusted editor to ensure their manuscript is ready for readers. This could be a proofreader, copy editor, developmental editor, or even a writing coach. With a regular editor you can turn to, the publishing process suddenly becomes faster and simpler. It's only a question of finding the best editor for your needs.

So let’s see the even better news: With three main categories of editing work possible, finding the right editor or the right kind of editing job might be surprisingly easy.


These editors focus on typos and grammar as well as spelling consistency. They won’t look at your storytelling or world-building, but they will make your book more aesthetically pleasing to readers by ridding it of technical errors. Proofreading services are also less expensive than other editing services and are better if you’re on a strict budget.

Note: What about digital proofreaders like Grammarly and ProWritingAid? While those tools are certainly useful and finding technical flaws in your writing, some errors and inconsistencies are too subtle and need an extra pair of eyes—especially if you dictate your writing!

Copy Editors

These generalist editors look at word flow, continuity, dialogue, etc. Copy editing is what most people think of when they think of “editing”--comments and red ink scribbled across the page, notes, suggestions, and offered improvements.

Developmental Editors

These large-scale editors review your book as a whole, watching for a steady plot build, satisfying ending, and solid character arcs. This editing job is different than the other two in that it doesn’t involve technical errors at all. If you’re writing a sprawling epic or an especially complex story, you might consider a developmental edit to better shape and refine your ideas into a story readers will love.

Of course, most editors can perform a combination or all of the above services. It’s important to find an editor you respect who works in your genre and knows exactly what kind of story you’re trying to tell.

One further note:

Editors are human. An editor is not necessarily always right, but can easily find out how to fix problems before readers find them and give you an objective run-through that you might be incapable of yourself. Find an editor who can push you to improve, challenge you, and inspire you!

As always, please feel free to share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section below or join Pen and Glory’s Facebook group for further discussion.


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