Finally, an answer! Here’s the difference between line, copy, and content editing

By Pavarti K. Tyler/ The most memorable lines from movies have truth in them:

Failure is not an option

You can't handle the truth


Gimme a whiskey, ginger ale on the side. And don't be stingy, baby.

And much like fortune cookies, when you add something to the end it takes on a whole new meaning. This time, though, we aren't adding “in bed;” we're adding “in editing.”

That's right

Failure is not an option in editing

You can't handle the truth in editing


…don't be stingy, baby, in editing

Unfortunately one thing many indie authors don't invest in is a quality editor. But let me tell you again EDITING IS NOT AN OPTION. One of the reasons I find that many authors skip this step is because they just don't know what they are going to get. Questions I regularly hear are:

  • Will this person be mean to me?
  • Will they try to change my voice/vision?
  • Will they charge an unreasonable sum?
  • What exactly does an editor do?

The first three I can answer easily; the last—well, that's a little more complicated. A good editor will never be mean to you, although they may push your comfort zone at times. A good editor will never change your voice but will work with you to enhance it. And finally, a good editor is worth every cent you spend, and you should throw in a puppy for good measure. Trust me, if I didn't have an editor, I'd still be writing my manuscript in chalk on the front walk.

There are a few different kinds of editors. Some perform more than one function, some only do one, but at some point you want all of these editorial steps taken. And you want them taken by someone else; you can't do it alone. And you don't want your mom/husband/cousin/dog to do it either. An editor requires a certain amount of professional distance in order to tell you what you really need to hear. (I withdraw this statement for those of you whose moms/husbands/cousins or dogs are professional editors).

The steps for editing a manuscript should, generally, follow this outline.

The BETA reader

This is a friend/colleague/family member/pet whose opinion you value. This is the person (or people) who will hash out with you back and forth things that don't make sense. You can send them a first draft with a list of things you aren't sure what to do about it and they will help you and tell you it's great. They are your sounding board, your support system, and they are essential.

The Critique Partner

This is a friend/colleague (I personally recommend against family members and pets for this one) who isn't afraid to tell you your manuscript has a certain odor that resembles the outhouse you used in summer camp. They are fellow professionals who are invested in your success. Usually, a critique partner is someone for whom you do the same thing. Sometimes there is some copy-editing involved and they will fix what they can, but generally a critique partner is looking for readability and story flow with an acute eye.

The Editor

These can be separate people or combined. However, I caution you that very few people can do all three skills well.

→ The Content Editor

This is the professional eye which looks over your manuscript with a fine tooth comb. They will catch things like inconsistent character behavior/speech, style issues, thematic variances and readability. A content editor will be able to help you adjust your language by audience (lit fic vs. YA – there is a difference!), make sure everything makes sense, has believable dialogue and a plausible plotline. Many people skip this step, thinking their editor who fixes commas will do this as well. If you are lucky, they will, although the cost for editors who are that skilled is quite high and often times, even if the individual is capable, their attention to other issues in your manuscript might mean they miss something that could make the difference between an ok story and an epic novel.

→ The Copy Editor

In journalism, a copy editor is essentially a fact checker and someone who protects the publication from libel. For our purposes a Copy Editor is more like a professional proof-reader. Someone who performs this task usually does minimal rewriting for the sake of efficiency of prose as opposed to stylistic choices. They check the manuscript for clarity and flow. In my experiences most copy editors will also do line editing as the two are tied closely together and work well as a two part process.

→ The Line Editor

This is your final defense, the last step, the difference between being a writer with a good idea and a professional author. The line editor generally isn't there to discuss story arc or make sure you understand how to use a dialogue tag. Instead, they are there to make sure you are putting out the best quality product possible. Line editors will go over each sentence to make sure it is ready for publication. They check for grammar, punctuation, spelling, consistency and word usage (Is he your Principle or your PrinciPAL?) and can often assist with rewriting/rewording sections that need help.

As you can see there are a lot of steps, and they are all important. In the end, the best thing you can do is find a group of people you trust with your work and get them on your team. Each step in the process will only make your manuscript better, and a professional edit is never wasted money.


Pavarti K Tyler, Marketing Department DirectorPavarti is a member of the Novel Publicity Team as a PR Campaign Manager. She also provides content editing as a consultant or for her Novel Pub clients. Her unique experience as a dramaturge, both on and off Broadway, has provided her the opportunity to work closely with many playwrights and directors. This allows Pavarti to consider both the literary and audience perspective. Pavarti K Tyler's novel Two Moons of Sera is a Fantasy/Romance and is being released in a serial format. Her next novel Shadow on the Wall is scheduled for release in early 2012. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or her website.


Stuart Whitmore

Well, darn, I thought this was going to give me an excuse to include whiskey with my editing efforts. 😉 This is good info, though — it’s very useful to have this break-down of the roles people can and should play in getting feedback to hone a manuscript to make it ready for the market. And I agree that a good editor is worth the money — as long as they’re providing value for that money. (I’ve seen “professionally edited” books, both traditional and indie, that have been filled with errors.) Thanks for providing this clear description of the editing roles!

    Pavarti K Tyler

    So true Stuart. I recently had a little rant about a major typo I found in a Hugo Award winning book. It happens! Why do Indies get more crap for it than anyone else?? It’s because so few take the time to get a professional edit done.

    Thanks for commenting 🙂

Nicole Alexander

This post couldn’t have come at a better time for me. I just got a professional critique of my MS (which sounds like what you describe as content editing) and was wondering if I should spend the $$$ for line editing. Sounds like I should give it some more consideration.

PS – I will be RTing this and subscribing!

    Pavarti K Tyler

    Nicole, so glad this helped you out! And yes, I would definitely take the time to consider line editing. It makes a HUGE difference. It’s important to put your best product possible out there 🙂

    Good luck and have a great day.

Adam Collings

Thanks for this. The world of editting is scary and daunting for unpublished wannabes like me. Thanks for demystifiying it a little.

    Pavarti K Tyler

    Thanks Adam! It can be a little overwhelming and when you start adding in the dollars it gets downright daunting. I’m glad I could help clear the air a little for you 🙂

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[…] Finally, an answer! Here’s the difference between line, copy, and content editing by Pavarti K. Tyler: Besides giving a quick idea to what beta readers and critique partners are, Pavarti shares gives us the inside scoop on what each type of editor does and why you might want one. […]

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[…] Content editing focuses on the story — characters, plot, tone, continuity, etc. Line editing consists of detailed notes on the writing, everything from word choices to sentence structure to paragraphs or entire sections that need attention. I provide both levels of feedback. Neither of these should be confused with copyediting, which is focused on grammar, punctuation and spelling. (More on the differences here.) […]

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