Editors: from developmental to proofreading what do they do?

Editing is a rare art. It ranges from developmental editing to substantive editing to copy editing and to proofreading. These are all different jobs that have different purposes. As an agent I’ve signed up for all four, but through the publishing process you’ll come to understand what each type of editor does and what the definitions mean.

From the Editors’ Association of Canada:

Developmental / Project Editing
Co-ordinating and editing a project from proposal or rough manuscript to final manuscript, incorporating input from authors, consultants and reviewers. May include budgeting, hiring, design supervision and project co-ordination.
Substantive or Structural Editing
Clarifying and/or reorganizing a manuscript for content and structure. Changes may be suggested to or drafted for the author. May include negotiating changes with author.
Stylistic Editing
Clarifying meaning, eliminating jargon, smoothing language and other non-mechanical line-by-line editing. May include checking or correcting reading level; creating or recasting tables and/or figures; negotiating changes with author.
Copy Editing
Editing for grammar, spelling, punctuation and other mechanics of style; checking for consistency of mechanics and internal consistency of facts; marking head levels and approximate placement of art; notifying designer of any unusual production requirements. May include metrication; providing or changing system of citations; writing or editing captions and/or credit lines; writing running heads; listing permissions needed and/or obtaining them; providing or editing prelims, back matter, cover copy and/or CIP data. May also include negotiating changes with author.

Fact Checking / Reference Checking
Checking accuracy of facts and/or quotes by reference to original sources used by author and/or from other sources.
Producing an alphabetical list of names and places and/or subjects and concepts, etc., that appear in a work.
Reading proofs of edited manuscript. Galley proofing may include incorporating and/or exercising discretion on author’s alterations; flagging locations of art and page references; verifying computer codes. Page proofing may include checking adherence to mock-up (rough paste-up), accuracy of running heads, folios and changes made to type in mock-up, checking page breaks and location of art, and inserting page numbers to table of contents and cross-references if necessary. May also include checking vandykes and colour mats (press proofs).
Production Editing
Co-ordinating typesetting and design in the mock-up and assembly stages; includes ensuring integration of design and content. May include actual mark-up, proofing, mock-up, page proofing, indexing and/or checking vandykes and colour mats. May also include locating, negotiating with and supervising designer, artists, typesetter, and printer and creating production schedule.

Each editor has a different role; however, publishing houses do not employ this many various types of editors. A lot of this is done freelance. Also, something to remember is the editor that acquires your book may do developmental and structural editing, but not proofreading as it depending on the size of the company. Knowing who does what and what draft to expect from whom is an important part of learning the editing process.

Published by Carly Watters

Carly Watters is a SVP, senior literary agent and director of literary branding with the P.S. Literary Agency. She is a hands-on agent that develops proposals and manuscripts with attention to detail and the relevant markets. PSLA’s mission is to manage authors’ literary brands for their entire career. Never without a book on hand she reads across categories which is reflected in the genres she represents and is actively seeking new authors in including women’s fiction, commercial and upmarket fiction, select literary fiction, platform-driven non fiction and select memoir. She occasionally represents children's book projects. Carly is drawn to emotional, well-paced narratives, with a great voice and characters that readers can get invested in.

2 thoughts on “Editors: from developmental to proofreading what do they do?

  1. Thanks so much for explaining the editing process, Carly! I’m a writer and an editor, and I am often surprised by the number of writers who feel they don’t need to be edited. We all need to be edited! (although I’ll admit I’m biased on this matter). I think it’s great that you’re helping people better understand the editing process.


    1. It is so very important.

      I think some writers are unclear about what each editor does and why an acquiring editor doesn’t necessarily proofread etc.

      Everyone needs an editor. (Heck, my blog posts need a critical editorial eye…) But it’s all about learning why, which editor you need, and what they do to facilitate the publication process.

      Thanks for your note, Carrie! We’ll start an #EducationInEditorial


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