Yesterday, someone asked me how I differentiate between some of the services I offer. (You know who you arethanks!) I've updated my website to be more specific, but I thought I'd also give you guys access to a tool I created to help clients figure out what they need.

See, there are multiple levels of editing, and not everyone calls them the same names or includes the same tasks within them. Here are my descriptions for each level of editing and the general tasks it includes:

  • Developmental editing: Fixing stuff that affects entire chapters or the whole manuscript (structure, support for argument, character arcs, making sure you're targeting the right audience, etc.). 

  • Substantive editing (some people call it line editing): Fixing stuff that affects single paragraphs and the transitions between them (ambiguity, tone, obvious problems with logic or facts, etc.). If I have to move more than a paragraph around, I'm starting to get into developmental editing.

  • Copyediting: Fixing stuff that affects individual words and sentences and deals with small details (punctuation, spelling, grammar, etc.). If a character's eyes are blue in chapter 1 but brown in chapter 3, a copyedit should catch that.

  • Proofreading: Fixing any lingering errors that somehow snuck through the previous three levels. I don't offer this service because, frankly, it drives me bananas. It's a long story.

Every manuscript should go through at least copyediting and proofreading, preferably by two different people so that the fewest possible errors slip through. However, I'd say that about half the time, the manuscripts that come to me for copyediting aren't actually ready for it. They (often really) need developmental or substantive editing or both first.

Yes, it can all get extremely confusingand I've been doing this for years!

So if you're not an editor, how on Earth do you know which level(s) of editing to ask for? I created this tool to help you figure that out:


The link should take you to an Excel spreadsheet. (If you have trouble with it, email me so I can help you.) When you download and save a copy, you'll find a list of various things I can check in a manuscript. Type a 1 in the cell next to each thing you'd like checked. Then look at your totals in row 40. The higher the number next to a particular level of editing, the more of that level of editing your manuscript needs.

Of course, this is no substitute for a sample edit. For that, I actually look at and edit a short excerpt of your manuscript to figure out what level(s) of editing the whole thing might need and how long it would take. But by using this tool, you can quickly start to get an idea of what your manuscript needs and, therefore, how much it'll cost. Especially when it comes to prices and timing, I think most of us would agree with an old role model of mine:

"I don't mind problems, but I don't like surprises."

Write on,


(Thanks to Romain Vignes for sharing their work on Unsplash.)