What kind of edit does your book need?

What’s involved in a book edit? Are there different types of edits? How do I know which kind of edit my book needs?

Fair questions, and ones I hear often when talking to other authors and clients. But finding a simple, clear answer is surprisingly hard to come by. Terms are used interchangeably, and opinions are as varied as the authors. But for the sake of clarity, I’ll define the terms I use and hopefully I can shed some light on a convoluted subject.

I break down the different stages of the process into three types of edits. A content edit (often called a developmental edit), a follow-up line edit, and a copy edit (sometimes called proofreading).

Developmental content edit

  • Focuses on structural problems, character development, themes and voice
  • Designed to improve the writer’s craft as well as the manuscript
  • Writer receives manuscript back with extensive notes
  • Focuses on preparing a manuscript for line edits

My heart is in developmental content edits. It’s my specialty for a reason. I love looking at the big picture of the manuscript and helping put all the pieces together to create a beautiful story.

This coming week I’m headed to Atlanta to teach a couple workshops at PENcon, a conference just for editors. I’m teaching a workshop on content edits, and I’ve called “Seeing the Angel in the Marble,” because that’s exactly how I see it. A quality content edit carves away at the excess and brings a beautiful piece of art out of a chunk of raw material.

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free. Every block of stone has a statue inside it, and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” Michelangelo

Line edits

  • Goes line-by-line to evaluate flow, pacing, tense, point of view and word choice
  • Addresses formatting and grammar issues, descriptions, conciseness and tension
  • Is designed to polish a manuscript for publication

A line edit is typically the follow-up for the content edit. If a content edit looks at the big picture of a story, the line edit narrows the picture to look closer at the details.

Does the prose flow? Does it need more or less description? Is the dialogue natural and snappy, or does it lag and contain too much exposition? A line edit takes a solid foundation and starts whittling away at the rough edges, smoothing the story so it flows naturally with an effective rhythm.


  • Designed to catch spelling errors, typos, and minor grammar problems
  • Focuses on polishing a manuscript for publication after a content and line edit

When most people think of editing a book, they are often thinking of a copy edit, which can lead to confusion in newer writers unfamiliar with content edits, line edits and other industry terms. A copy edit goes down to the nitty-gritty details. It fixes punctuation errors, finds typos, and gives a manuscript a final polish before it goes to an editor or publisher.

The book editing process can be a bit daunting for inexperienced writers, but take it a step at a time. Start out with a content edit, fix big picture problems, and then move on to smoothing out the bumps with a line edit and copy edit.

If you’re not sure if your manuscript is ready for a content edit, many authors find a manuscript consult very helpful to identify major problems with their story before the time and money investment of a content edit. 

Don’t be discouraged and have patience with the process. Editing and rewrites are hard work, but they are key to producing a quality, effective story that will touch your readers’ hearts and leave them asking for more.

Interested in speaking to me about a manuscript consult or my editing services? Email me at morford.katie@gmail.com or check out my Editing and Coaching services. 





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