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What Is Professional Editing?

In my experience engaging with the writing community both as a writer and as a critique host, I’ve listened to and participated actively in the debate surrounding editors and their importance to the publishing industry. One concern I hear quite often against hiring a professional editor is that they take liberties with the manuscript and change the story. Another common argument is that there are grammar checkers built into the writing software, so the value an editor would add is negligible. Yet other writers attest to the value their editor adds to their writing and would not even think of submitting a manuscript to a publication without their input. In this article, I will break down exactly what a professional editor is, why they’re important to writers and the publishing industry, and what exactly a writer can expect from an editor to help dispel the confusion surrounding this pivotal topic.


The ultimate goal of professional editing is to polish a manuscript to its utmost potential and make it a competitive title in a saturated publishing market. In a world where publishing is accessible to everyone through print-on-demand services, there are millions of books for readers to choose from. High-quality books are what traditional publishing houses strive for, and they have built a reputation among the reading community for achieving it. They also have teams of editors and marketers dedicated to ensuring their manuscripts will hook readers and stand out.

Most self-published or indie authors do not have this team of professionals, which puts their book at an automatic disadvantage. Whereas readers automatically assume quality from traditional publishers, self-published titles are often stigmatized as being poor quality and are less likely to be picked up by a reader or purchased by bookstores.

Hiring a professional editor can help to remedy this disadvantage to self-published authors by helping to ensure the reader’s experience is a positive one, eliminating anything that may detract from the story and increasing the likelihood that a reader will recommend the book to their reading community and leave positive reviews, thus generating more sales. Professional editors not only eliminate mistakes and correct typos, but they also identify plot and character inconsistencies, critique author style, voice, and diction, and analyze every line to ensure the author intent is articulated in the most attention-grabbing way. Professional editors will also help ensure that facts are correct and flag potential legal issues with content, which is especially important for authors writing memoirs or books with historical or scientific themes or content. Not every editor will perform all of these functions, however, so it’s important for writers to understand the different types of editors and what they do in order to understand the value they can give to their manuscript.


The most prominent types of editing are Developmental editing, Copyediting, Line editing, and Proofreading. Ideally, a book will go through every type of edit before it is published. In my professional editing career, I have performed all of these editing roles for small presses and indie authors; each role serves a unique purpose in taking a manuscript to the next level of quality. Self-published authors are often working within a limited budget, so it’s important to understand these unique roles to determine which type of editing a manuscript needs and will benefit the most from.

Developmental Editor

Developmental Editors, also known as Content Editors, are the bridge between the author’s vision and the reader’s perception of a story. They are responsible for analyzing a manuscript and identifying anything that impedes the reader from understanding the author’s intent. Plot holes and character inconsistencies are some of the bigger elements a developmental editor tackles, but they will also flag any issues with descriptions or scenes that don’t feel complete, are contradictory, or are confusing to understand. A developmental editor will ensure that a story develops cohesively from beginning to end and will suggest edits to fix any missing, confusing, or underdeveloped elements.


A copyeditor’s role is probably the most well understood of the editors. They are responsible for correcting grammar, punctuation, spelling, and word usage errors, and will also suggest rewrites to sentences that are confusing to understand. A copyeditor’s goal is to ensure that the reader is able to understand what the author has written from a common language perspective. It may be easy to dismiss a copyeditor’s importance in favor of spell check and grammar check software, but these programs are known to be unreliable with more complex narratives, especially in fiction, because they do not account for author style or confusing phrasing that is otherwise grammatically correct.


A line editor analyzes each line of a manuscript to determine if it is written in the best way possible to portray the story as the author intends. Line editors weigh tension, tone, voice, and author style in all of their edits with the primary goal of enhancing the reader’s experience. A line editor may suggest rewrites to enhance the tension in the script and eliminate extraneous or repetitive details that detract from the story or bog down the pace. A line editor will also recommend corrections to passive voice where possible and suggest stronger verbs in place of adverbs to give the story that competitive edge. A line editor focuses on taking a completed story and transforming it into a page turner that readers will not be able to put down.


Proofreaders are often misconstrued in the publishing industry and reduced to little more than a glorified spell checker. But a proofreader is extremely important to the success of a book, and their contribution is sometimes the only separation between distributors choosing to stock a book and passing it over. A proofreader’s role is to examine a manuscript after it has been typeset and formatted for print and capture any errors that detract from the visual presentation of the story which suggest the book does not meet industry accepted publishing standards. This may include minor corrections to grammar, font and style inconsistencies, improper bold or italics, punctuation errors, spelling and word usage errors, and layout irregularities such as improperly formatted headings and margins.


Acquisitions Editor

An acquisitions editor decides which stories to pursue for publication or chooses which themes to seek out for a magazine or journal. They may participate in other types of editing, but they are primarily concerned with selecting which stories best represent their publishing house’s brand. An acquisitions editor is usually the person who will extend a publishing deal to an author.

Comprehensive Editor

Authors seeking to hire an editor may encounter the term Comprehensive Editor or Comprehensive Editing during their search. A comprehensive editor will usually combine two or more of the types of editing described above. Authors considering hiring a comprehensive editor should ensure they understand exactly which editing services are being offered. Comprehensive editors may need to perform multiple rounds of edits on a manuscript to accomplish a comprehensive edit. For example, since a developmental edit deals with content that the author will need to add or revise in the story, a copyedit will need to occur after the developmental edit to catch any errors introduced by the new write-ins and revisions.


Now that we’ve covered what an editor does and how they can add value and a competitive edge to a manuscript, it’s important to understand what an editor does not do or is not required to do to avoid any awkward exchanges and misunderstandings. The author/editor relationship is a sacred part of the book publishing process, with both entities desiring success and satisfaction of both the book and the author.

When reaching out to an editor to establish a potential working relationship, an author may be asked to provide a synopsis of their story to the editor along with details of character arcs, plot points, genre and target audience, and any other details which will enable the editor to complete their task.

  • An editor is not obligated to agree to edit an author’s manuscript and may decline. There are many reasons why an editor may choose not to pursue a particular manuscript; they may not feel they are the right fit for the genre or audience, or they may not have capacity in their current workload to take on another project, or it may be for some other reason. In any case, an editor passing on a manuscript should not be taken as a personal attack of author ability or their story.

  • Editors are not beta readers. While they may give feedback that is similar to a beta reader in some instances, editors are responsible for a much more in-depth analysis and hands-on involvement in the polishing of a manuscript than a beta reader. While an editor may choose to champion a title they edit, they are not a book marketer, and an author should not expect an editor to perform this function unless explicitly stated by the editor as part of the service provided.

  • An editor is not obligated to tell an author if their book is good or bad or to leave a 5-star review when the book is published. Editors are expected to flag problematic elements and themes that they believe may result in negative feedback from readers, but it is ultimately the author’s decision to accept or decline the editor’s recommendations.

  • Editors help the author polish their manuscript as close to perfection as possible to make it competitive in a saturated publishing market, and while well-edited books have a larger chance of receiving positive reviews, it’s important for every author to understand that an editor is not responsible for a book’s success.

  • Editor comments should be presented in an honest and constructive way that enables the author to improve their work and be confident in the changes being implemented. Edits and comments are not personal attacks against an author, their writing ability, or their story. Remember, editors want the author to succeed.


Professional editing is a very important step of the book publishing process. Traditional publishing houses understand the value of editing and how it correlates to a title’s success. Self-published and indie authors are at a disadvantage because they do not have dedicated teams of editors like traditional publishers have, and many writers are confused about what editors do and how they add value to a manuscript. Whether it’s enhancing the reader experience line by line, ensuring clarity of language, developing a cohesive story from start to finish, or ensuring a book’s presentation meets industry standards, professional editors work with authors to polish their manuscripts to be competitive titles in a saturated publishing market.

As both a traditional press and a small press, Huntsville Independent Press is driven and dedicated to publishing competitive titles and elevating their authors to success. I’m excited to join HIP in this endeavor and devote my editing expertise, which spans across each of the editing roles discussed here, to HIP and its authors.

Written by:

MJ Pankey


Huntsville Independent Press



Huntsville Independent Press is the premiere publishing imprint of the Southeast United States, and we want to help you, the author. HIP provides, at no cost to our signed authors, a better solution for the publication of your story. Our contracts are non-restrictive and offer higher royalties for our authors. No HIP advance is taken out of royalties. Your advance from us is a one- time payment for the privilege to publish your book and is not a loan. Our passionate team of editors work diligently to ensure that the uniqueness of your story is preserved through the editing process. While you’re here, feel free to look around to see if Huntsville Independent Press is the right home for your work. We are always happy to have talented authors find a publishing home here with us.



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