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What Is The Difference Between Developmental Editing and Proofreading?

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How many times have you been psyched about a new book, only to get halfway through and feel disappointed with pointless subplots or underdeveloped characters? And how many times have you found grammatical mistakes or missing punctuation in a best-selling novel? These are developmental and proofreading errors and are totally avoidable!

As a writer, you have worked hard on your book– countless days, months, even years have gone into your work. The absolute last thing you want is to fall short, whether with a subpar storyline or a preventable typo. However, with a steadfast, thorough editor on your side, you can steer clear of these unfortunately common downfalls. 

Whether you’re a first-time writer or a seasoned author, you will need a competent editor to get your manuscript publishing-ready. But what does this entail, and where do you begin?

Editing Processes

Before you get your story on the shelf, your manuscript first needs to fall into the hands of an editor. One might think that this is a read, fix, and ready-to-go one-stop-shop situation. However, how to edit a piece of work is actually a three-step process. Developmental editing, copy editing, and proofreading are all separate, equally important stages of the editing process. As a writer, it’s important you know the differences and value of all three services. 

Developmental Editing

Now whether you choose to have a developmental edit can depend a lot on your writing experience. If this is your first book, then yes, a developmental edit is most likely a good place to begin. If this is your fifth novel, you have experience and probably enough people already on your team to be your guinea pigs and help guide your story. However, even with a team of readers, you still might need some guidance from the pros to bring it all together.

A developmental edit does just that, develops the heart of your story. An editor will look at your book as a whole, including the overall structure and content, and think:

Do your plotlines make sense? 

Are your characters thoroughly flushed and substantial? 

Are you missing needed background information, or even worse, did you give too many unnecessary details? 

Do your chapters transition smoothly? 

Is the overall tone of the story consistent and what you were hoping to convey?

After helping with story suggestions, your editor will put the work back in your hands to make the additions. Once you’ve had another crack at it and your story makes sense and feels complete, it’s ready to move on to the nitty-gritty world of grammar and syntax.

Copy Editing

Copy editing involves delving into your story line-by-line, exploring your writing style, looking for readability, and making sure your work is grammatically and syntactically solid. Unless you also happen to be an English professor who reads the Chicago Manual of Style before bed each night, copy editing is a must. This is most likely going to be the most time-consuming part of your editing process but is definitely worth every minute. 

But you’re not done yet. Proofreading is the final and most exacting step.


Proofreading– the cherry on top of your editing sundae! Your editor will, once again, read through your entire manuscript and make sure every t is crossed and i is dotted. The proofreading step is where all of those developmental and copy editing revisions are in place and correct and where it all comes together as a complete error-free whole. And this is where your editing journey ends!

No matter your experience, EVERYONE NEEDS A PROOFREADER! Even the most talented, experienced writers can look over a spacing issue, misuse a comma, or bypass that dreaded passive voice! Having one final look at your work can mean the difference between that perfect typo-free novel and that eighth edition bestseller that STILL has a “your” instead of “you’re” on page 238. 

Let’s Do This!

At Em and a Pen, we have experienced, obsessively thorough editors that can help you figure out where to begin and guide you through the entire process of getting your book ready for publishing. Check out our editing services, drop us a line, and let’s get started!