Sometimes authors get confused by the various types of revision and editing, including line editing, so I thought I’d explain them how I see them, narrowing in focus from developmental editing to proofreading.
Developmental editing involves looking at the whole project. This includes initial revisions authors complete themselves, beta/test readers, and hired developmental editors. It addresses things like the story arc, character development, and flow as well as holes, inconsistencies, and confusing areas. Authors can hire professional developmental editors, but in my opinion, as long as they find at least six to eight beta or test readers, they will get the same results.
One of the catches is that these beta/test readers should be relatively avid readers, in the same genre as the edited project, if possible. They also need to promise to be brutally honest; it is possible to be tactful, encouraging, and supportive as well as honest. If someone reads your book and says it’s perfect just the way it is, it will not help you much. (Yes, it is possible it is perfect, but it’s highly unlikely.)
Line Editing or Copyediting
To me, line editing and copyediting are synonymous, meaning to revise and edit the work on a sentence level. This involves looking at punctuation, grammar, and sentence construction, including suggesting ways to make the sentences clearer or more active.
Line editing forms the bulk of the work I’ve done as an editor. I not only look for errors in punctuation, grammar, and sentence construction, but I also suggest ways to improve them while trying to preserve the author’s voice. If I notice holes, inconsistencies, etc., I will make a note to the authors to let them know, but I’m not reviewing the manuscript for them. If authors can’t afford to hire a copyeditor/line editor, I suggest that they at least read their entire manuscript out loud since this will help them find most of the errors and sentences that just don’t sound right.
Proofreading is what’s done just before a manuscript is published. Though line editing/copyediting will catch almost all of the typos in a manuscript, it’s not designed to correct all of them. Simple typos can sometimes be hard to see, and sometimes, new typos are created when making the corrections suggested by the line editor/copyeditor. So proofreading is essential.
Proofreaders are available for hire and normally line editors/copyeditors can also do proofreading under a separate process (not at the same time as they are line- or copyediting). It’s always good to have other eyes proofread your work, but if you must do it yourself (and I recommend doing it yourself once more right before sending it for publishing even if you do hire a proofreader, just in case), consider reading the manuscript backwards. This will make it easier to spot mistakes and will reduce the temptation to start second-guessing your overall project and sentence/word choices.
Above all, keep in mind that developmental editing, line editing/copyediting, and proofreading are all separate processes to be done in order, allowing time between them. Getting fresh eyes from different people at each level can also help, which I wrote about in a later post here.