So we all know that editing is important in the writing world. We also all prioritise it to varying degrees. I think that some writers don’t understand what editing is. I’ve heard a lot of talk about the rewriting process, and that causes me some concern. Rewriting is not a part of editing, instead, it’s a rewriting of a book that isn’t working. Not every story will need to be rewritten. So I thought I’d make a handy dandy guide to help you navigate the editing world. It’s important to know the difference between editing types so that you can approach the editing process yourself, or hire the right person.

It is highly recommended that you hire someone to do the copy editing and proofreading of your book. We all have different financial situations, so I will give you some practical tips for getting the best DIY results. The process will be easier if you can get another pair of eyes, but if you find someone willing to exchange work for an IOU or a manuscript swap, you might be able to get a high-quality product by doing the bulk yourself or by asking nicely!

Conceptual Editing

What it is

Conceptual editing can also be called manuscript appraisal, substantive editing or developmental editing. This particular type of editing happens early on in the writing process when a rough outline is jotted down. 

This kind of edit focuses on the structure and organisation of your story. There is no need for looking at word choices, punctuation or grammar this early on because there simply isn’t anything to edit. A conceptual editor will help you piece together the plot of your story and make sure that events take place in the right order. 

A good conceptual edit will leave you with a solid rough draft to flesh out, a story idea you are confident in and a story that flows well from chapter to chapter.

A seasoned author who has practised bringing concepts and ideas to life won’t need a conceptual editor. If you’re the type of person who enjoys brainstorming with others and wants help getting ideas into a book format, this type of editing can be beneficial. 

How to do it

There are a bunch of ways that you can do a developmental edit yourself. It’s often just referred to as the outlining process. 

It’s important to note that not every writer outlines, so this won’t be necessary for everyone. If you are the type of writer who enjoys planning, take some time to look into different outlining methods and pick one that works for you.

One outlining technique particularly suitable for developing is the ‘Sticky Note’ method. You’ll need some sticky notes, a pen, and a board to stick the notes on. 

Simply sit down somewhere comfy with your supplies. Generally, it’s helpful if you have a rough idea of what you want from your story but it’s not necessary. Start jotting down all of your ideas on individual sticky notes. Continue until you have anywhere between 30 and 50 notes. These notes can have elements you want in your story like a first kiss, a plot device, a character introduction, basically anything that you want to include in your story should get jotted down on a note. 

Now it’s time to put the pieces together. Start to arrange your sticky notes in order of occurrence. You want to think about when plot points would logically happen and where to place things for narrative interest.

Throw out any ideas that didn’t fit in the whole plan. Don’t think you have to add everything in just because you wrote it down. You might also find yourself jotting down more ideas once you begin to piece the book together.

This process is easy to make collaborative, and it’s a fun process for multiple authors to work through.

Some writers like to further divide this process and separate notes into chapters or acts. Another way you can customise your board is by using different coloured sticky notes to represent different types of tension or emotion. You can make this as detailed or as sparse as you want.

Copy Editing

What it is

Copy editing helps the readability of a piece. It can also be called line editing. An editor will go through your work and make sure that the writing style is consistent. Along with this, they make sure that sentences flow together. A copy editor will also check your manuscript for formatting errors, although these issues may also be tackled by a proofreader.

Copy editors also check the usual things that come with editing like grammar, punctuation and continuity. A copy editor provides feedback and double-checks information in a manuscript to make sure it is factual. 

How to do it

You may find it beneficial to pick up a style guide before beginning your edit. If you don’t have one you can do a simpler edit by only looking at spelling and syntax. 

When editing, you should be aware of the bigger plot behind the book. Keep in mind where you want the story to go when you make your notes. Copy editing is going to take a few steps so emotionally prepare yourself for working through your book several times.

The first thing you want to do is to read your book fully and formulate a plan. A few questions should be playing in your head while you’re reading it. 

  • Is what I want to get across clear?
  • Are the voices consistent the whole way through?
  • Are the facts and details correct and consistent?
  • Does the manuscript flow smoothly? 

Keep a notepad and fill it with notes on passages that raise concern. Don’t do any edits while you are doing the read-through. Take note of the issue and the page number and correct it later.

Next, you’re going to read through the manuscript again. You’re going to start doing line edits. As the name suggests you are going to go line by line, implementing any of your notes from the first read. Don’t just stick to your notes. The point of this phase is to go through every line in your manuscript, don’t just skip to what you’ve noticed before. Little details can get lost in manuscripts, but looking closely at every sentence will allow you to catch more errors than on your first read.

After you’ve finished your line edits, you are going to enter the formatting phase. Check where you want to publish or what formatting standards you’ll need to adhere to. 

Each country has different publishing guidelines, so make sure that you’re researching formatting tips that will work in the country you wish to publish in. A small example of this is the speech marks in UK vs US books. The UK ‘uses this symbol to indicate speech’ while the US “prefers this symbol”. The little details matter, so make sure you’re formatting for the right audience. 

Next comes the final read in this editing phase. This isn’t the last step in your editing process, but you go through the manuscript making small edits and corrections. While reading, check to make sure that the readability of the text has been improved. The writing shouldn’t be complicated but is instead more reader-friendly. You can use this time to correct any small errors you catch, but you will have a more detailed check later in the proofreading phase. Focus on readability over trying to correct too many things in one go. 


What it is

Proofreading is different from copy editing and should be treated as such. A proofreader looks at the manuscript on paper and a computer, checking the manuscript for typos and formatting errors.

A proofreader does not provide opinions on the subject matter of the book or the content within. Instead, they focus on making sure the manuscript is error-free and easy to read. 

How to do it

Proofreading is challenging as by the time you arrive at this stage you’ll be deeply familiar with your text. You might want to consider taking a step back between editing phases to give yourself fresher eyes. That being said there are a few tips and tricks that might help you notice errors more easily when you get to proofreading.

When proofreading, you are looking for remaining errors. 

  • Misspelt words
  • Misplaced punctuation
  • Stylistic inconsistencies
  • Formatting (Page numbers, line spacing)

Now you read every single word and double-check the above list to make sure that the manuscript is clean and error-free. Some handy dandy tips that come into play include changing your font to comic sans or using a read out loud function to listen for errors. Now, these aren’t foolproof but combining some of these tricks will help ease the editing process, however painful they might be to implement. Oh, how we suffer for our art. 

The editing process has been known to drive writers insane, that’s why we often outsource this particular phase of work. It’s not impossible to edit your own work, though it’s always more difficult when you gain a certain level of familiarity with your own story. Take your time when it comes to edits. Make sure that you’re careful with your corrections, and you can end up with a clean manuscript. 

Unfortunately, writing can feel like a pay to win career, and for a lot of us, that simply isn’t an option. While I obviously recommend that you offload some of this work to someone else, if you can, I completely understand needing to do most of this work yourself. There is no shame in DIY, especially in a day and age when there are many programmes, tips and tools that will help you perfect your manuscript. 

Editing will take some hard work, but you already wrote your book, so I know that you’ve got this. 

As always, I cannot wait to see you on the bookshelf!