Newsflash: Did you know if your writing career, you’re likely to come across approximately a dozen different types of editors? With confusing names (they aren’t all called editors!) and some overlapping territory (do you need a Copy Editor… or a Proofreader?), how will you know who to hire?
I’ve put this article together to highlight the editors you’re most likely to come across and what you can expect from them.
Plus, a bonus: I’ve worked in every single one of these positions, so I can share with you a little bit about what goes on behind the scenes — as well as what editors appreciate from writers, so you can take the best possible care of your editors while you’re working together.
If this is your first time here, hi! I’m McKenzie Lynn Tozan (you can call me McKenzie or Kenzie). 100% of the time, I am a mama of 3, wife, cat-mom, and book and movie/TV show enthusiast. By night, I am a poet, novelist, and professional book review. And by day, I am a freelance writer, high-ticket copywriter, and book strategist.
But what is Book Strategy? To put it simply, I offer A — Z services to authors, all the way from outlining/developing a bare-bones concept into a complete first draft… all the way up through publishing their book and marketing it (while growing their author presence online and increasing their book’s shelf life). And when I say I do it all, I do it all: developmental editing, line-editing, cover design, interior design, publication assistance, query letters and book proposals, marketing plans, audience engagement, etc., etc., etc…
And so, without further ado…
Your 4 Most Likely Editors:
1. Developmental Editor: These Editors, as you may have guessed from their name, are there to help you develop your ideas into a complete concept or book. Some writers choose to work with a Developmental Editor when they’re very early in the project, when they’re feeling stuck mid-project, or even when they’ve completed the first draft. They hire the Developmental Editor specifically to look for holes in the story, as well as dramatic inconsistencies.
Developmental Editors will read through the project in its current state and note questions they have along away, as well as suggestions for where more information could be added, or details could be clarified, to clean up the project. Depending on the Editor, they include notes and an overall reaction to the project, and perhaps a phone or video call to discuss.
In my experience as a Developmental Editor (3 consecutive years and 6 years to present on a freelance client basis), I will note any instances in the manuscript of confusion, gaps in the plot, points of interest, and potential improvement. I will then write a detailed 2–3 page analysis of how I enjoyed and interpreted the book, as well as where I think the book needs the most improvement. Depending on the client, I will add on a video call if they need clarification beyond my notations and analysis.
2. Line-Editor or Copy Editor: While Developmental Editors focus on the writer’s story details, the Copy Editor focuses on the finer textual details, including punctuation and grammar. Nothing will pull some readers out of a story than a misspelled word or misplaced comma (or so they say). Advanced Copy Editors are also wonderful for double-checking a writer’s turn of phrase and idioms used to make sure they are properly used, rather than eliminating them entirely and removing the writer’s voice.
In my experience as a Copy Editor (6 consecutive years and 5 years to present on a freelance client basis), I’ve accepted the manuscript a writer is working on (either partial or full), and I go line by line to complete the edits. I also note areas in the manuscript where the book feels tonally different or out-of-character, as well as areas the writing could serve to be improved. Finally, I keep a list of consistent issues, such as how comments are used or improperly used apostrophes, that the writer will need to revisit throughout the project.
3. Fact-Checking Editor (and IMO, Number Checker): A Fact Checker does specifically what their name implies: they read through the entire manuscript with the purpose of double-checking dates, statistics, and other factual figures, as well as any Reference pages included at the end of the book. This Editor is especially important to non-fiction writers and world-building genres, like science fiction/fantasy.
In my opinion, the Fact Checker’s role also includes checking the spelling and punctuation of real places and people, as well as how numbers are presented (figures, written out, or with hyphens).
As a Fact Checker, I completed all of the above. I circled the issue in the manuscript itself and then kept a running list of concerns that needed to be revisited, including the page number, the issue, and how to correct it. I also helped Content Editors by noting inconsistencies in fictional information that the writer may have mismatched during the writing process.
4. Content Editor: Much like the Developmental Editor, the Content Editor will revisit the manuscript when it’s written in full to evaluate the content and its consistency. It’s incredibly important for the Content Editor to keep track of characters, the timeline(s), and plot development. They indicate areas in the manuscript that are inconsistent or not as compelling as other areas of the story.
This is one of my favorite Editor roles I’ve been in, because I love going through stories and dissecting them anyway, but I feel like I get a unique look into a writer’s thinking process when I catch an error. Like the Developmental Editor and Fact Checker steps above, I have always indicated the problem areas in the manuscript itself, wrote ideas in the margin for how to improve certain passages, and kept a list of the concerns to make it easy for the writer to quickly revisit those passages.
& 3 More Vital “Editors” Who Go By Another Name:
Proofreader: Many people confuse Copy Editors and Proofreaders, thinking they are completely interchangeable titles, but their order in the book creation process is different. A Proofreader and a Copy Editor will both read through the manuscript, specifically looking from grammar and punctuation errors in the text.
But the Proofreader is there for a final read-through after multiple iterations of editing. They will read the final, “polished” version of the manuscript, often called the “galley” or “proof.” A publishing team hopes that the Proofreader will come back with zero edits to report, but this simply reinforces the importance of quality editing and writing, because the Proofreader will always come back with some way to improve the book before it goes to print.
While I enjoy working as a Proofreader, I like joining the team earlier on in the process, so that I can really get a solid feel for the book and watch as it develops into the book it’s going to be. As a Proofreader, I felt somewhat disconnected from the books I was checking, since I wasn’t introduced to the project until the very end. This isn’t to say that I didn’t take my work seriously or slacked off, but don’t be surprised if the Proofreader isn’t the most animated, talkative member of your publishing team (even though they’re still very important).
Beta Reader: Your Beta Reader or Beta Tester is the first “official” reader of your manuscript before it’s made available to the public. You might also share the book with friends or close family, but this is the unbiased reader who will help you anticipate how your book will be received by the general public.
Like the Developmental Editor, this reader will go through your entire book with a fine-toothed comb, looking for weaknesses. The difference is, they will look for issues with your plot and characters, as well as moments in the book that were dull, that angered them, that bored them, and that they simply didn’t like. A Beta Reader should come back to you at least with an explanation for why they felt the way they did about the book, but the better Beta Readers will also write up one of those 2-to-3 page analyses for you, as well.
Sensitivity Reader: Unlike the Beta Reader, this reader isn’t there to tell you how they felt about your work on a personal level. Rather, they are there to consider issues with representation. Did you use derogatory language when referring to someone’s race or skin color? Did you use antiquated language or a problematic stereotype? Were all of your minority characters villains? Did you provide an accurate or flat depiction of LGBTQ+, Disabled, or Fat characters? Or did you leave out these characters entirely in favor of a White, thin, “beautiful” cast of characters?
Like the other Editors on the team, they will circle issues as they appear in your work, and they will present you with a list of issues you need to work through before publication, as well as possibly a written-up analysis of how to properly address these issues and avoid them again in the future.
What to Expect:
There are three different scenarios you might find yourself in:
If you work with a publishing house — where it’s a Top 5, a small press, or a hybrid publisher — they will have their own team of editors they’ll want to look at your book before publication. In some cases, you’ll get lucky, and they will have an entire team of editors at your disposal. Be prepared for a lot of feedback and what might feel like a long journey — the book you’ll have at the end is worth it.
However, in the second scenario, you’ll be working with one of these publishing houses, but their team will be limited. They might not provide all of the services you feel your book needs, and you’ll be able to work out an agreement with your publisher that says what you legally can hire out and what can be completed at the publishing house. But sometimes, you’ll work with a press, like the small presses I worked at, that has a small team of editors who wear multiple hats (for example, at one job, I performed as an Acquisitions Editor, Copy Editor, Interior Design Editor and Cover Designer, and Final Proofreader; and I performed those five positions for every book we published while I worked there). Please don’t let this unnerve you or make you think that you’re going to end up with a crappy book. Trust me, editors in these positions work ridiculously hard to pick up the slack and to guarantee that we aren’t providing our writers with lackluster results, even though we have fewer people working in that room.
In the third scenario, you’ll be self-publishing, and you’ll have to pay for each of these editors yourself. And of course, there will be people pressuring you, saying that you have to have all of these people if you want to even dream of having a “real” book. But let me remind you: If you have written a whole draft, then you have a real book. Whether you find yourself doing all the work yourself, or if you only have the funds to hire one of these editors, or if you hire a whole team — you’ll have a real book no matter what.
My Three Hot Takes:
First: If you have the opportunity provided to you to work with all of these people, go for it. You’ll receive feedback from a more extensive circle of people, which will help you refine your work from multiple angles, which I think is great.
Second: If you’re paying for all of these editors yourself, be incredibly selective. When I’ve gone through this myself, my funding is limited, so I focused on that line editor and trading services with a trusted writer who was confident in their abilities as a content editor. If I write a book at some point with more sensitive subjects, I’ll seek out a sensitivity reader.
Third: If you’re looking for a beta or sensitivity reader, be prepared to pay them. It’s commonly assumed that these two roles are important, much appreciated, and… volunteer only. But in my opinion? These two roles are so vitally important, I want to appreciate the people doing that work, and I want to give them the financial incentive to take that work very, very seriously.
Also, I’ve worked in both of these roles (I’ve betaed for… I don’t know how many writers at this point… and I’ve been a sensitivity reader for characters with disabilities and mental health concerns, as well as fat and LGBTQ+ representative characters), and when they’re unpaid… it feels sort of icky, and more often than not, the writers involved felt like they could come back over and over for more feedback.
With a paywall in place, that behavior would be disincentivized, and I’d feel more appreciated for the serious work I put in, even if I wasn’t designing the book or checking for misspellings.