A quick guide to the different types of editing — From content & line editors to beta readers & more.

Updated Sept. 30, 2019

Behind the scenes of favorite books can be a complicated place, especially when you’re talking about different types of editing. There are many stages of editing. For each stage, there’s a differnt type of editor specializing in that exact part of the process.

In this post, I’ll break down editors into three categories, Editors, Beta Readers, and Alpha Readers. Editors are your professional brand of book doctors who get paid the big bucks to gut manuscripts before their published. They come in many varieties, and we’ll address the nuances below.

Then there’s Beta Readers. They’re hobby editors who volunteer their time to read manuscripts before they ever reach an editor’s hands.

Finally, there are Alpha Readers who come very early in the process often in the form of critique groups, writing workshops, or while practicing becoming a better writer using the Critique Feedback Loop.

Editors

Editors are professional readers, critiquer’s and proofreader’s. They are paid to offer their expert advice to an author in order to make the authors work more marketable (also better).

There are many types of editing including: acquisition editing, copy editing, line editorinf, content editoring, and more. Below is a quote from a blog post from The Helpful Writer. They do a great job of calling out the differences without diving too deep. You can read their complete, original post here.

Acquisition Editor

Most of you already know, or at least heard of, the AE. Generally, they are the ones picking up the books for a publisher, and the go-to for the author while prepping a book for publication.

Developmental Editor

Used by big publishing houses, and often ghost writers. You can find a few freelancing DEs. They are best with non-fiction writing, but can be hired by fiction writers. Their primary function is to ensure a book moves in a forward motion, watching plot and characterization. Think writing coach.

Content Editor

The very big publishing houses have Content Editors, the one overlooking all the plot, characterization, voice, and setting.

Copy Editor

The copy editor specializes in grammar, punctualization, fact-checking, spelling, and formatting. The Copy Editor is used most often in journalism publications, but utilized by some smaller publishers.

Line Editor

Also known as a Copy/Content Editor, often employed by the small – medium publishers, and self-published authors. They do it all – grammar, fact-checking, spelling, formatting, plot, sentences, characterization, setting, punctualization, and voice. They go through every inch of an MS, word by word, line by line.

Proofreader

Many get a proofreader and an editor confused. A proofreader is the one who goes over your MS after an editor. They look for the glaring mistakes missed, generally in punctuation, spelling, and formatting. They look for the glaring mistakes that may have been missed during edits.

Beta Readers

Beta readers can be a writers best friend if you know how to find them and treat them well. They’re the salt of the earth readers who want to be a part of the process. They volunteer their time to read early access, unpublished manuscripts before it’s ready for a professional editor.

A beta reader then share’s their thoughts with the author in whatever way the author requests. They require more direction and more hand holding than any professional editor should, but in return they work for free and are a great first line of defence by making sure your prose is clear and story is enjoyable.

For every writer the beta reading process is different. For me, it’s a structured, chapter by chapter read through. My beta readers are given chapter deadlines and are asked to answer a series of questions to send back to me. Occasionally we may have one on one conversations where they share their deepest, darkest secrets… ahem, thoughts on my novel.

For more information, read my in depth guide to running a perfect beta read.

Alpha Readers

Alpha Readers are to Beta Readers what Beta Readers are to Editors. To clarify: Editors are a professional grade arsenal of long-range weapons. They get paid to read at a professional level. Beta readers are avid readers willing to share their thoughts. They’re your infantry.

Alpha readers, on the other hand, have access to some or all of the early versions of chapters, they may read it in order or random bits and pieces, and they are not beholden to schedules or deadlines. They come earlier in the process than Beta Readers, often before much of the book is even written. They are your spies.

For me, Alpha Readers help determine aspects of the novel while I am writing it. They share input during the drafting process. You can include in this group writing partners or workshops. Lately I’ve been using /r/DestructiveReaders for my alpha reading process. Learn about how I used this community to improve my writing skills. Some readers there are professional writers, other amateurs, still others just readers wanting to share their input.

Conclusion

So there you have it. In short, all types of editing serve a different purpose. Some are editors are highly skilled. Others highly motivated even if they’re skills aren’t quite as high. All are worthwhile tools in your editing toolbox.

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