Editor Speak 101: Types of Editors

Posted by on Feb 25, 2015 in Featured Articles | 0 comments

Editor Speak 101: Types of Editors

Editor Speak 101 – Types of Editors

During and even before an edit, you are going to hear a lot of terms, both technical and grammatical, that you may not have heard before. In this series, we are going to define these terms so you and your editor will have a common ground when speaking about your edit. First, before we get into the good stuff, we are going to discuss the types of editors you will meet when shopping for the perfect helpmate.

You’ll find there are just as many types of editors as there are types of edits. And while your editor may be a jack of all edits, you may decide you want to hire someone who specializes. I’ve found it to be true, certainly regarding myself and other editors I know, that editors tend to be better at certain types of edits than they are at others. Just because an editor is awesome with development does not mean that they will be a great proofreader and vice versa. Development of a story requires a much different skill set than proofreading. And though your copy editor may be proficient when it comes to content editing, you may want to hire someone who is expert instead. I’ve always looked at it like this: Just like I wouldn’t hire a brake specialist to put a new transmission in my car, I wouldn’t hire an editor who doesn’t specialize in the service I require.

Developmental Editor

A developmental editor is all about the big picture. This type of editor will help you make a disjointed story and turn it into something that shines. As the name implies a developmental editor helps you “develop” every part of your story. They will direct you when it comes to plotting, characterization, and setting. They will identify places that need to be expanded or deleted. These editors deal with the creative side of writing and the technical side of story construction. If you are having issues with plot or characterization and need help, I recommend a developmental editor.

Content Editor

Content editors deal with a story on a line by line basis. They are going to help you get spot issues with sentence structure, consistency, pacing, flow, and the tone of the writing. Like a copy editor, they will also help you cut the fluff and fat out of your novel. This type of editor will question the plot, the characterizations, the actions and motivations of your characters, help you keep your voice and scenes consistent and tell you when you’ve jumped the shark. If you want an editor who will point out the potential flaws in your plot, who will cut the fat and help you say things in a clearer, more succinct way and will make the pacing and flow of your story hit on the mark, you are looking for a content editor.

Copy Editor

When most people think of what an editor is, they are in fact thinking of the venerable copy editor. When grammar and spelling is the issue, the copy editor is your go-to expert. They can quote The Chicago Manual of Style and the dictionary like the most fervent of Bible-thumpers. :) Your copy editor will make sure it’s right. Whether it’s a dangling modifier, passive voice or an issue with tense, your copy editor will have your back.

To me, there is no discussing whether or not your book needs a copy edit. It does. There’s no getting around it. If you are looking for someone to make sure you are using who/whom correctly, your commas are in the right spot and whether your antecedents are clear and in agreement, well, don’t skimp. Hire an expert copy editor.

But copy editors generally do a bit more than just make sure your grammar, spelling, and punctuation are good. They are there to help you cut wordiness and redundancy and catch issues consistency (especially with spelling, but sometimes substantive inconsistencies as well).


Traditionally, your proofreader is the last vanguard before publishing. These editors give your manuscript a final read through. They make sure the formatting of the manuscript is consistent and problem-free, that there are no stray commas or punctuation marks, that there are no misspelled words or punctuation errors. Your proofreader may also make corrections to the manuscript to avoid pages at the end of chapters that have only a word or two or a single line.


While your book formatter is not technically an “editor,” we’re going to discuss them here anyway. A formatter gets a book ready for publication, both e-book and print. Like a proofreader, your formatter may go through your manuscript for stray punctuation/words and behind-the-scenes formatting that will cause issues in the final form of your book.

Your potential editor/editing company may offer a variety of services, and a content edit from one company may be very different than a content edit from another company. There is no real standard out there when it comes to what a specific type of edit involves, and this includes the names, but there are some things you should expect.

And now you know what we are going to discuss next time in Editor Speak 101. See you next time! Now back to writing. :)

Shay Goodman (95 Posts)

Shay Goodman is a self-proclaimed maven of mayhem and editing goddess. She has over twelve years of experience in the publishing industry and has worked as a copy editor, proofreader, and a developmental and content editor. She spent several years gainfully employed as a managing editor and director of acquisitions for a small independent press until deciding it was time to strike out on her own once again. Shay has worked with both international and New York Times best-selling authors, most notably: Suzy Duffy and E.L. James. She is proudly a founding member of Write Divas.

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