What Type of Editor Do You Need? Breaking Down Industry Terms

BY ANDREA MORAN • September 8, 2022

What Type of Editor Do You Need? Breaking Down Industry Terms

You did it—you finally completed the book you’ve been working so hard on. Congratulations! So . . . now what? Most writers know they need to hire an editor to get their manuscripts in top form—see our post on Why Your Book Needs a Professional Editor for more on that—but there are so many different kinds of editors out there. How do you know which one you need? Read on for a straightforward breakdown of common industry terms so you can choose what’s right for you.

Acquisitions Editor
This one is a bit of a misnomer, seeing as they don’t do much actual editing. Instead, this person purchases manuscripts for established publishing companies with an eye toward whether the book will fit their particular branch, the book’s sales potential, et cetera. If you hope to go the traditional publishing route, this is the person to whom you’ll first send your manuscript. Once a deal is made, this editor will act as your guide through the rest of the publishing process.

Editorial Assessment Editor
If you choose to go the self-published route and have no idea what level of editing you need, you may be interested in contacting an editorial assessment editor. This is a professional editor who reads over various parts of your book and gives you a breakdown of the types of editing they think you need. They assess your manuscript’s strengths and weaknesses, then determine what you should be spending your money on in terms of specific editing. This is most helpful when you’re truly at a loss as to where to go next.

Developmental Editor
This is where the big-picture type of edit comes into play. These editors (called a collaborative editor here at Kirkus Editorial) look at the overall structure, plot, and character development of the book and make generally broad, sweeping suggestions. They are the ones to point out things like the protagonist suddenly behaving out of character, a timeline not making sense, or flashbacks resulting in more confusion than backstory. These editors can even work with you while you’re writing your book instead of just with the completed product. What they do not do is pare your story sentence by sentence. (We’ll get to that type of editor later in the list, I promise!)

Structural Editor
Similar to a developmental editor, a structural editor looks at the overall framework of your book. This type of editor, however, looks specifically at the structure of the book in order to determine whether it narratively flows in a way that hooks and engages readers. You may also see this type of editing process called an evaluation edit or a manuscript critique, but it all consists of the same thing.

Line Editor
Often confused with a copyeditor (and incorrectly used interchangeably), a line editor literally goes through your manuscript line by line to smooth out your writing and make it as engaging as possible. This includes suggesting word choice replacements, reconfiguring sentences to improve readability and flow, and eliminating passive voice as much as possible. Also sometimes called stylistic editing, line editing is what ultimately polishes your manuscript into a finished product.

Copyeditors also work with your manuscript on a line-by-line basis (hence the confusion between them and line editors), but they focus more on grammar, punctuation, and consistency. They zero in on the small details with the assumption that you have already taken care of the larger plot issues (perhaps through a developmental editor). It is not uncommon to find editors who offer their services as a package deal as both line and copyeditor, since the two frequently go hand in hand.

Fact-Checking Editor
While these editors mostly deal with nonfiction books, academic journals, newspapers, or magazines, there are certain fiction books that need fact checkers too. These editors read manuscripts strictly to verify facts, including but not limited to: dates of historical significance, accurate terminology in particular professions (such as medical terms being used by a character who is a doctor), names of historical figures, et cetera. This ensures the integrity of a nonfiction work, as well as the authenticity of a fictional one.

Did you ever have to exchange papers in a high school English class so that everyone could proofread a paper that was not their own? It is as true now as it was back then that, even if you’re a grammar and punctuation expert, it is always easier to spot mistakes in someone else’s  work than it is in your own. That’s why proofreaders are so valuable. They home in on spelling, punctuation, and formatting while strictly sticking to error correction. All the content editing will ideally be done before this stage, so the proofreader is the last line of defense against distracting typos.

Content Editor
Finally we come to the editor, who pretty much does it all. Sometimes called a substantive editor, a content editor is in charge of fulfilling most of the above mentioned duties: grammar, punctuation, flow, pacing, and overall structure. They are basically a catch-all editor who provides a wide variety of editorial services packaged into one role. This type of editor might prove most helpful to those who believe their work could benefit from as much technical and creative help as possible.

While all these different kinds of editors can seem overwhelming, don’t let yourself get bogged down by thinking you need every single one of them to make your book successful. Many editorial services combine a variety of the above in a discounted package, so while you may pay more up front, it’s cheaper than paying for each editing level on its own. Figuring out what’s right for you and your manuscript is a personal decision—but at least now you can navigate the industry terms like a pro!

Andrea Moran lives outside of Nashville. She’s a professional copywriter and editor who loves all things books. Find her on LinkedIn.

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