Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Publishing as a Second Language – Defining Editing

by Linda Gilden @LindaGilden

It may surprise you to see “editing” listed as a term we need to know to understand publishing. After all, doesn’t everyone know that editing is simply the process of correcting, condensing, and polishing a manuscript in preparation for publication or other distribution?

The truth is there is nothing simple about the process of editing and that is why we need to take a closer look into exactly what that means.

As a freelance editor I get calls every month. “Hello. I would like to get my book/article edited.”

“What kind of editing do you need?” Then comes the silence on the other end of the line.

“Uh, uh, I didn’t know there was more than one kind. I just want it edited, you know, fixed. So how much will it cost to fix my book?”

This is where more knowledge comes in handy. At this point if I explain the different levels of editing and what they cost, the caller almost always chooses the least expensive option. However, when I receive the manuscript, often it will need a higher level of editing. Because of this happening over and over again, I now request a sample of each manuscript before I give the client a quote. This allows me to give a more accurate quote and assures the client he or she is getting exactly the type of editing that is needed. I also ask for the exact word count. I know some people will give a quote based on page count. But I have found that word count works out fairer for me and the client as you are not quoting on white space.

So, what are the different types of editing and what do they entail?

There are three basic types of editing: proofreading, copyediting, and substantive editing. 

Proofreading – This is usually the last edit in the publishing process. The document is checked to make sure all the necessary elements are there such as front matter, the correct style has been followed, all spelling and punctuation errors have been corrected, page numbers are correct, and formatting is in order. With this type editing, the content is not altered. This edit occurs after the document has been typeset so the editor can catch anything that may have changed during that process.

Copyediting – Copyediting does not include rewriting but the editor makes sure material is logical and understandable and removes redundancies. 
  • Errors in grammar, punctuation, capitalization, tenses, spelling, formatting, and any other areas are corrected. 
  • Suggestions for changes in text flow or rewriting will be made to the author who will make those changes based on conversations with or notes from the editor. 
  • Even though fact checking is not part of this type editing, the editor pays attention to quotes and Scripture and calls attention to it if something looks incorrect. If he sees a statistic that is not sourced, the author is reminded to provide that. The editor also points out things that need permission to use such as songs and poems.

Substantive Edit – A substantive edit includes all of the above as well as some additional work.   
  • Restructuring where necessary, smoothing out the language, all without losing the author’s voice and style. 
  • In addition, the substantive edit includes adjusting awkward sentences, paying special attention to text flow, and performing minor rewriting. 
  • When editing fiction, this stage would include checking character and plot elements and descriptions but querying the author if changes to these items need to be made.

Ghostwriting and total rewriting are sometimes included in editing discussions but really are in a different category of work.

These simple definitions of the subcategories of editing show you why there is sometimes confusion about what is needed when requesting editing. And why it is a good idea for your editor to look at a sample of your work. 

Hopefully these brief descriptions will give you a general idea of the basic types of editing and guide you as to which type works best for your manuscript. Do you still have questions about the different types of editing? Be sure to include them in the comments.


Linda Gilden is an award-winning writer, speaker, editor, certified writing and speaking coach, and personality consultant. Linda recently released Articles, Articles, Articles! and is the author of over a thousand magazine articles and 18 books including the new LINKED Quick Guides for Personalities. She loves to help others improve their writing through editing and coaching and especially enjoys being part of their “Aha!” moments. Linda’s favorite activity (other than eating folded potato chips) is floating in a pool with a good book surrounded by splashing grandchildren—a great source of writing material!


  1. Well explained Ms. Linda. A fear many new writers have is that an edit means their beloved work will be sliced, diced, and changed so much it will become unrecognizable by it author. That's not editing. Quality editing enhances the manuscript so the author's intent and story is communicated more clearly. Great explanations here ma'am. Do not fear edits; welcome them. Thanks and God's blessings...

  2. Thank you for this information. I appreciate editors. :-)

  3. Thanks so much for this breakdown, Linda. Very helpful!