Another reader question for the Ask the Editor category: “What are the differences (besides cost) between a light edit, a deep edit, a developmental edit, a copy edit, and proofreading?”
I explained some of this in a post about the difference between editing and proofreading, but I’m thankful for this reader question, because it’s prompted me to go into the differences between terms like “light edit,” “deep edit,” “basic edit,” “substantive edit,” and “line edit.” In most fields, terminology is clear, and everyone in the field knows exactly what a person means when they use a term. This is not true for the writing/publishing field, at least when it comes to terms related to types of editing.
When many people say “light edit,” what they are referring to is a basic edit or copyediting, which is sometimes called line editing. This kind of edit usually includes checking and correcting the following items:
- errors in spelling, punctuation, grammar, and usage (such as accept/except, your/you’re).
- consistency in style matters such as capitalization and punctuation, following a style guide such as CMS, AP, APA, or house style.
- proper placement of footnotes, diagrams, etc.
“Light edit” and “heavy edit” actually refer to the density of errors in a piece. A light edit might have five errors/changes per page, and a heavy edit might have 200. For heavy editing, I charge more than I do for light editing, because a light edit (with few errors to find and fix) takes much less time and effort than a heavy edit does.
What is a deep edit?
A “deep edit” could mean at least two different things. It could mean a developmental edit, or it could mean a substantive edit.
The name “developmental edit” is fairly descriptive. It’s the kind of editing that starts around the same time that you start writing your book (if not before), and it shapes your book’s development. It’s usually done in conjunction with a traditional publishing house, and it focuses on prescriptions for your plot and characters, or, in the case of nonfiction writing, on your content and approach. When a developmental edit doesn’t take place until the first draft is finished, it can feel like you are being operated on without anesthetic. Developmental editing is morally questionable, and I don’t generally do that kind of editing. The only exception: I will point out problems I see in the course of doing line editing, but I refuse to co-opt your story and make it my own, which is how most writers feel about developmental editing.
A substantive edit can also be a bit painful, but it’s much less invasive than a developmental edit is. I’ve rarely heard writers say that a substantive edit felt like a violation, but almost all of the authors I’ve spoken to about developmental editing did.
A substantive edit is also sometimes called line editing or copy editing. (I know, it’s pretty confusing!) A substantive edit may include all of the things a basic edit does, but doesn’t always. In a substantive edit, these are common:
- asking the author about anything that seems ambiguous or incorrect.
- ensuring headings are clear, appropriate, and parallel.
- editing for consistent writing style and continuity.
- moving sentences or paragraphs as needed to improve flow.
- reworking a sentence to eliminate awkward phrasing or wordiness.
Whether I do light or heavy, basic or substantive editing depends on the condition of the manuscript. My clients get the royal treatment, so what their book needs is what their book gets, for the same price.