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This post is all about line editing vs. copy editing, and I dive in to the five major types of edits, line editing rates, how to line edit, and so much more!
In the publishing world, a manuscript goes through many different editorial stages before it’s ready to be in the hands of readers. The same is true of all kinds of content, including online copy. But when it comes to book editing, a narrow focus is always needed. A copy editor performs a different type of edit than a proofreader, and the tasks of a line editor are different than that of a copy editor.
Line editing overlaps with copy editing in some ways, but it’s also a very distinct form of editing, and it’s an essential step in the publishing process.
My Guide to Line Editing vs. Copy Editing
- What Is Line Editing and Copy Editing?
- Definition of Copy Editing
- Definition of Line Editing
- What Exactly Is Line Editing, Really?
- Line Editing Rates
- What Are the 5 Major Types of Edits?
- Is Copywriting the Same as Editing?
- Line Editing vs. Developmental Editing
- Line Editing vs. Proofreading
- How to Line Edit
What Is Line Editing and Copy Editing?
What is the difference between editing and copy editing, specifically line editing and copy editing? Well, you can treat line editing and copy editing as separate stages that are kind of more like cousins than sisters.
If there was such a thing as an all-in-one editor, it would mostly resemble a line editor. Line editing isn’t just about imposing mechanical consistency and correcting infelicities of grammar—the main objective of copy editing. It’s also about making the language compelling, flagging and reworking awkward sentence structure, and remaining attentive to tone and overall flow.
Definition of Copy Editing
Copy editing focuses on correctness, clarity, consistency, and coherency, and a copy editor’s main job is to keep track of the mechanical side of things like spelling, punctuation, syntax, usage, and grammar. Copy editing doesn’t particularly mess with voice or style (except to maintain stylistic consistency).
Definition of Line Editing
Line editing is a thorough copy edit plus a “language facelift” to tighten wordy passages, enhance word choice, avoid repetition or awkwardness, and improve pacing and flow.
What Exactly Is Line Editing, Really?
The problem with defining line editing is there’s no one definition that fits for every type of content, and line editing can mean different things to different editors and authors who are trying to self-edit a novel. Line editing falls somewhere between structural or developmental editing and copy editing. Sometimes line editing and copy editing get lumped together, but there are specific, key differences for line editing.
Most line editing includes the following:
- Examined word choice to preserve tone, voice, genre, or main objective
- A level of polish on par with a copy edit
- Filled-in gaps that could otherwise confuse the reader
- Flagged awkward or clunky language and transitions
- Fixed run-on sentences, danglers, redundant phrasing, or anything that might be ambiguous to the reader
- Changes for clarity and character consistency
- Enhanced flow and pacing
- A close read that makes dull words shine
Line editing doesn’t focus on:
- A big-picture edit or chapter edits
- Restructuring whole sections of a book or “book doctoring”
- Major holes in the plot or character development
- Marketability of a book outside of being the reader’s advocate on a sentence-by-sentence level
- Typographical errors or formatting inconsistencies (or other polishing issues in the realm of proofreading)
RELATED: 5 Reasons Why an Editing Community Matters
Line Editing Example
Looking for a line editing example? In lesson 6 of my e-course, Freelance Editing 101, I include example queries for authors that range from proofreading, copy editing, and line editing comments to illustrate how these services differ. If you’re looking for more examples, templates, craft resources, and checklists for editing projects, learn more about the self-led course!
Line Editing Rates
How much do line editors make? According to the Editorial Freelancers Association, line editors can make anywhere from $46 to $50 an hour. However, line editing rates can vary significantly depending on the type of content (academic material, novels, business copy, etc.). Line editing can be quite lucrative, but you typically won’t make as much as a developmental editor or book doctor/writing coach.
What Are the 5 Major Types of Edits?
Think of the five different types of book editing as specific lenses through which to view and edit content. Editors and publishers sometimes have different definitions for each type of editing, and sometimes these stages can differ based on the publisher. For instance, some publishing companies may include a pretypeset proof in Word after a copy edit, while others might skip directly to a PDF proofreading stage.
In general, however, the five major types of edits are:
- Developmental (structural) editing
- Content or line editing
- Copy editing
- Fact checking
To be clear, I usually lump fact checking and copy editing into the same category, so I personally consider there to be four main types of editing.
Here’s a fly-over view of the four types of editing:
Developmental editing is much more collaborative. This is the stage where you develop ideas and bring those big-picture thoughts to life.
Content editing or line editing is when you make sure the content flows and reflects the author’s main goals or overall ideas in a compelling, productive way.
Copy editing deals with abiding by proper citations, writing formats, and style guides, all while ensuring correct grammar, usage, punctuation, and syntax.
Proofreading is more about the polishing of the manuscript, catching typographical errors, flagging formatting inconsistencies, and double-checking cross references
Is Copywriting the Same as Editing?
Some authors or businesses hiring an editor may expect the editor to also do some writing, but copywriting isn’t the same as editing, and some editors are not writers.
While some forms of editing can be collaborative and include revising or reworking content on a sentence-by-sentence level, copywriting and ghostwriting are completely separate task.
Sometimes, as a developmental editor or even line editor, I will include suggested revisions in the text as examples of writing for authors embarking on the revision process. While copywriters create original work to appeal to a very specific audience, copy editors are readers first who check for errors and inconsistencies.
RELATED: University of Chicago Editing Certificate | Review, Cost, Curriculum
Line Editing vs. Developmental Editing
Line editing is a sentence-by-sentence edit, and developmental editing focuses more on the big-picture view. While a line editor considers word choice and sentence structure for clarity and flow, a developmental editor is concerned with organizing, expanding, or improving content to help the writer achieve a main objective.
Line Editing vs. Proofreading
A good line edit will zhuzh up your copy edit. In other words, a thorough line editor will typically perform a copy edit while also paying attention to voice, flow, pacing, word choice, and more. A proofread focuses less on what word choice would enhance a sentence and more on typographical errors and formatting inconsistencies. According to The Chicago Manual of Style (2.100), “Proofreading is the process of reading a text and scrutinizing all of its components to find errors and mark them for correction.”
RELATED: All about Proofreading | NaNoWriMo
How to Line Edit
If you’re starting out as a line editor, here are just a few questions you can ask yourself while line-by-line editing:
- Does the sentence or paragraph convey the writer’s desired tone and style?
- Does the language feel stilted, redundant, wordy, awkward, or incorrect in any way?
- Are the transitions smooth and natural?
- Does the sentence contain any spelling, grammar, or punctuation mistakes?
- Can you enrich the language by converting passive writing into active voice?
- Can you strengthen specific storytelling techniques like dialogue, action, flashbacks, etc.?
- Do any phrases give you pause because they’re unclear, lengthy and complex, or clichés?
- Can you simplify anything that may sound convoluted to the reader?
Aside from any confusion surrounding line editing vs. copy editing, I’ve found that many readers and editors are slightly miffed by the difference between copy editing and proofreading. I plan to create a post on copy editing vs. proofreading and the different types of copy editing out there, but in the mean time, I hope this post on what line editing is helps bring some clarity!
This post was all about line editing vs. copy editing. Make sure to check out my e-course, Freelance Editing 101: Launch or Grow Your Editorial Business.
Cassie Armstrong says
Hi Mollie. I completed my first line edit for a client. The feedback was great, but the results weren’t what they wanted. I love the idea of line editing and was excited to take on the project. The project combined line editing and copyediting.
I was asked to complete the line edit in two weeks. I successfully negotiated for four weeks. I did look at the edit word by word and line by line. What can I do to improve my line editing skills?
Hi Cassie! Oh, it’s so hard to communicate expectations and be on the same page about the level of editing needed, especially when it combines a few different types of editing. My number one advice for anyone looking to improve editing skills, specifically line editing, is to take a course specific to the type of editing (fiction/nonfiction) so you’re able to do more than just correct grammar, usage, style, punctuation, etc. (basic copyediting skills). But I know courses can be expensive and aren’t always possible, so if that’s the case, there are definitely books out there you can read up on. The best thing to do is (1) read as many books as you can in that genre and make notes about what you see from a big-picture standpoint and (2) read craft books like The Artful Edit, the Subversive Copy Editor, etc. I will say, two weeks for a line edit (for an average manuscript of 60k-80k words) is a super fast turnaround. I’m glad you were able to negotiate for four weeks. Even that is a short amount of time! I think it’s just as important to communicate to your clients what is realistic for you to address in that short amount of time. Rushed projects get rushed results (unless they’re paying a rush fee and you’re able to put in 100%!). I hope that helps!