There is an exponential rise in editors offering to “help” the self-publishing author. Not all of these services are created equal. Here are some things to be aware of when deciding on an editor.

Not All Editors Are the Same

The first thing to know is there are different types of editors and editing companies. Most editors specialize in one type of editing or another, which means if you are self-publishing you will usually go to different editors. Even if you go to a company that handles all the different editing for you, more than one editor will probably work on your manuscript.

Your editing options are: 1) Hire a developmental or content editor, hire a copy editor, hire a line editor,  and finally hire a proofreader, or 2) Hire a single editor or company that offers everything included in option one.

Now, at larger, more established editing companies that provide one-stop shopping, they are going to charge you one price that covers all the different types of editing you will need, otherwise known as a “package” price. At smaller one-stop editing companies you may get an itemized list of all the different editing being done. Both work out to about the same price; the billing is just broken down differently.

What you need to know is what each editor does.

Content, Developmental, or Substantive Editor

They are called three different things, but they all do the same thing. For the sake of simplicity, I will simply use the term “substantive,” as it accurately describes what the content and developmental editors do. The substantive editor is the one who looks at the big picture, seeing your manuscript in the broadest lens possible. The editing done at this stage is similar to what you do when most authors self-edit–revising chapters, moving paragraphs around, making sure ideas flow correctly from one to the next, and looking for inconsistencies or cultural and era discrepancies. This editor should be as interested in your manuscript as you.

Copy Editor

The next stage in editing is copy editing. This editor comes after all the information is arranged correctly and has been written and finalized. Copy editing checks grammar, sentence structure, spelling, and the finer details than the substantive editor. The copy editor should also verify the correct placement and format of citations. If the author’s bio, foreword, afterword, and other front and back matter were not added before this point, the copy editor will especially look them over. Forewords and endorsements are often the last things added to a manuscript. Nothing can discredit an endorsement like grammar and spelling errors in the foreword. The copy editor cuts down on the loss of credibility by acting as an extra defense between substantive editing and line editing.

Line Editor

The line editor is what many refer to as the proofreader, but “proof reading” is not the line editor’s job. You actually haven’t gotten to the proof reading step yet. The line editor checks word by word to make sure all grammar and spelling not caught by the copy editor gets corrected. This is called performing the fine edits. Why so many editors seemingly doing the same thing, you ask? Because we are all human and can easily overlook something, however unintentional. The line editor, though, isn’t going to look at the grammar in the overall text of the chapter like the two previous editors should. The line editor only looks at the grammar and spelling of the individual sentences and not the context of the sentences within their respective paragraphs and chapters.

Once your book has gone through the line editor, it is ready to go to layout. Everything has been checked that can be, and you are nearing home plate. Once your book goes through layout, it needs to go through one more editor, the proofreader.


The proofreader is often mistaken for being the line editor, but the proofreader’s job is very specific. “Proofreader” is actually a term invented about the time of the printing press. The proofreader was to “proof” the copy–to make sure what the typesetter had loaded into the printing press read the same as the written copy, to make sure the two matched before multiple copies were run.

Today’s equivalent is very similar. Most authors today type in Word, or a Word-compatible format. When that document is put into publishing software, such as InDesign, certain things get lost in translation. Sometimes the italics don’t transfer from Word to InDesign. Sometimes the paragraphs get split up in funny spots, or they aren’t indented properly. A lot of the formatting discrepancies are determined by settings in one program or the other. Ideally, the layout editor or layout designer will catch these problems, but they don’t always. So, the proofreader comes along and verifies that everything the author put into the formatting in Word is correct in the InDesign document as well.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that your book needs each of these editors, unless you are a highly competent writer and can skip the substantive editor and/or the copy editor. As a self-publishing author you can expect to pay for each one, whether you pay one company, like Topflight Communication, Inc., or you hire each editor individually.

Before you hire any editor, do your research, get referrals, and read reviews. Make sure each type of editing you need is going to be performed. Don’t assume that just because someone “edited” your book it is ready to go to print. Be certain it is ready by hiring everyone you need to help you get it done.