The Different Facets of Editing …The Long Road (Part I)


By MJ Moores, OCT. Author. Editor.

Years ago, when I first started pursuing writing with the focus for getting published, I didn’t know there were different kinds of editors.

Now, my Creative Writing minor in University taught me the difference between the various types of editing: Content/Substantive, Line/Stylistic, Copy Editing, and Proofreading (no, the last two are not one-and-the-same, trust me). And those are important, key basics to grasp but …

The kind of editing I’m talking about is query-level manuscript editing vs. publishing house editing.

At the crux of the idea, they’re the same. Both types look at the key phases of editing I listed above; however, they do it in two very distinctive ways and for different purposes. As a freelance editor who has been through the traditional gamut with one novel, and currently works for a local small publisher, I have experienced and edited for both types, on both sides of the coin.

And trust me, they are different.

Query Editing

Here, you hire an editor to help you get your manuscript into shape for querying agents and publishers.

With a focus on manuscript formatting (as opposed to book formatting), it is the editor’s job to look at any one (or all) of the key forms of editing: Content/Line/Copy/Proof. You, the author, look at your budget and hire a reputable editor (after getting a free sample-edit completed on your first 10 pages or first chapter up to 3,000 words) who will make suggestions on how to improve your story.

Some freelance editors state upfront that they are brutal and refuse to “baby” authors with hand-holding and suggestive phrasing.

Some freelance editors are innate teachers who genuinely want to guide authors toward a better understanding of their chosen genre and the writers’ craft.

Some freelance editors are not what they seem. They might have a basic understanding of the elements above but have not mastered the idea of individual author styles, what agents and publishers are looking for, etc. They tend to follow the grammar rule book to the letter at the cost of the originality of the story and independent nature of each character.

Regardless, whichever kind of editor you choose (and your sample edits will help you find the one best suited to you), ultimately it is up to you – the author – to accept these suggested edits or not before submitting your final draft for query.

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H. M. Miller
7 years ago

To the best of my knowledge, the publishing industry (traditional or indie) does not use the term “query editing”. The standard types are developmental, substantive, structural, line, fact-checking, copy-editing, etc. There are query letters, but professional-level editing is quite a different endeavor. It would be helpful – especially to newer writers – for them to learn the appropriate terminology.

H. M. Miller
7 years ago
Reply to  MJ Moores

With respect, a professional editor uses consistent industry-standard principles and terminology for preparing a manuscript for publication. I understand your point about the differences re: traditional publishers. The polishing/editing process – whether for querying an agent or publisher or for readying a book for self publishing – has the same steps and the same goals, i.e., finishing with a polished product that is ‘ready to go’ ( Anything less is disrespecting the writer and potential readers and not fulfilling the mandate of professional editing.

When I pay a freelance editor $30/hr for basic editing or $50 an hour for substantive editing (see here for sample rates –, they’d better not be free-wheeling or approaching it using “observations of the system over the years” but working in accordance with accepted publishing standards.

Perhaps to help writers, inserting personal views without links to industry terminology could be confusing or misleading unless they are presented as opinion or infomercial and not delivered as expert advice.