Copyediting is a “micro” edit that takes into account line-by-line language issues, as well as issues of consistency and clarity, within a manuscript. For example, a copyeditor will edit for spelling, punctuation, grammar, and syntax, but will also point out discrepancies such as dates and characters’ physical descriptions. A copyeditor is a close reader and also considers the standards of the appropriate style manual. Note that heavy copyediting can incorporate some aspects of developmental/substantive editing, but this would be agreed upon by the copyeditor and client.

Developmental/substantive editing is editing at the more “macro” level, looking at the “big picture” elements, such as structure, flow, and voice, (plus, for fiction, plot, character, dialogue, and setting). For example, although a developmental editor should question unclear organization of sections of text, a weakly developed character, or an improbable plot twist, a copyeditor does not have the responsibility to do so. A copyeditor may note the lengthiness of a passage and let the author decide whether to revise, but a development editor will likely re-draft the passage for the author’s review. An editorial letter from the developmental editor to the author can often be helpful in explaining the rationale for these “big picture” edits and may also mention potential audience and marketability of the manuscript.

In this way, developmental editing is really part of the revision process. You can go it alone or hire a developmental editor to help you:

  • Go it alone. In this case, you would benefit from following an approach described in a book. For example, I highly recommend the books written by Stuart Horwitz, a developmental editor and writing coach. He has published three books on the topic. In full disclosure, I should let you know that I proofread his second book and copyedited his third book and that he directs many of his clients to me when they reach the copyediting stage. You can find more information about his books on his company’s website. His approach is useful for both fiction and nonfiction works and for works of any length.
  • Hire a developmental editor or a writing coach. Again, I highly recommend Stuart Horwitz. Let him know that I sent you.

Regardless of whether you hire a developmental editor, I recommend that you engage beta readers. Jen Anderson of Clearing Blocks Editing wrote an article titled “The Importance and Limitations of Beta Readers,” which provides some helpful tips for finding qualified beta readers and guiding them to provide useful feedback. This step is critical for any type of manuscript.

Only when you have finished writing, revising, and incorporating feedback from beta readers are you ready for copyediting.