Which of the Six Editors Does Your Story Need?

Birthing a story takes effort and dedication, and your editor is the midwife.

Which of the Six Editors Does Your Story Need?
“Writer’s Block I” by Drew Coffman is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

From the nascent idea, to the germinating draft, to the final work of art alive within the world, the process of birthing your story is an organic one. Every writer will experience the process in their own unique way.

Just like with rearing children, the process can be painful, confusing, exhausting… even while being exhilarating, fun, and joyful. And the process is made so much easier by a good editor, someone with the skills and training to help midwife your story into being.

But, which kind of editor does your work need? The answer to that question depends on a variety of factors, including the type of publishing you plan to do.

I cover two topics in this article: what types of editor are there? And, what type of editing do different projects require?

Acquisitions editors

If you’re looking to publish your book through a traditional publishing route (like a publishing house or a magazine), you’ll likely encounter acquisitions editors. These professionals are responsible for acquiring new manuscripts or book projects for their publishing company. When you submit your manuscript, an acquisitions editor will review it closely to evaluate its market potential, quality of writing, and fit with the publishing company’s brand and goals.

If your manuscript is accepted, they will work with you to provide editorial guidance and ensure that your book meets the publishing company’s standards. They’ll help you refine your work, making sure that it’s the best it can be before publication. They may also negotiate the terms of your contract with the publishing company, such as advance payments, royalties, and marketing support.

Developmental editors

Developmental editors are essential for self-publishing, but major publishers will often provide this for you. Sometimes, initial developmental editing will be done alongside your agent, who will try to sharpen your work for markets they think it has a good chance in.

Small presses also sometimes offer developmental editing, and I’d recommend only working with small publishers that do offer basic editing services.

Sensitivity readers

Sensitivity reading is becoming increasingly common in self-publishing, but small presses and traditional publishers may not require it. You can always hire a sensitivity reader on your own dime to improve your work and ensure it will appeal to the broadest possible range of readers. One thing to note is that having had a work read for sensitivity might make it stand out to agents looking for new talent.

Line editors

These editors specialize in enhancing the flow, clarity, and style of your writing by reviewing your work line-by-line, examining each sentence for structure, grammar, word choice, and consistency. They may suggest rewording sentences, removing redundancies, or rearranging paragraphs to enhance the story’s flow and ensure that the writing is clear, concise, and engaging for readers. Collaborating with a line editor can be a valuable experience, as they can help you refine your writing and make it the best it can be, ultimately helping your book stand out in a crowded market and attract more readers.

Copy editors

The copy editor’s primary focus is to review your work for errors in spelling, punctuation, grammar, and syntax. They’ll also make sure that the document formatting is consistent and follows the publisher’s guidelines. Throughout the editing process, the copy editor will look for typos, incorrect word usage, and inconsistencies in your writing. By doing so, they’ll ensure that your manuscript is correct, error-free, and adheres to industry standards. In short, copy editors play a critical role in ensuring that your writing is polished and professional, making it more likely to be well-received by readers.


Proofreading is the final stage of the editing process. It involves a thorough review of the manuscript for any errors that may have been missed in previous stages. During proofreading, your editor will carefully examine your manuscript for spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, formatting inconsistencies, and any other issues that may have slipped through the cracks. By doing so, they’ll ensure that your manuscript is clean, polished, and ready for publication.

“Writer” by Alan Weir is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Which editor will you need for different publishing projects?


If you’re self-publishing, you will need to hire several editors to produce the sort of work that stands out among the crowd. This means you’re looking at a steeper initial expense, but the outcome is almost always worthwhile.

Consider the following editor positions if you are self-publishing your work: developmental, sensitivity, line, copy, and proof. Too many self-published projects neglect a good editorial team. If you had to pick only two, get yourself a good developmental editor and a copy editor, then try to do the proof on your own. Remember, a polished manuscript will attract more readers, improve your reputation, and increase your chances of success.

Small publishers

Some small publishers will usually provide developmental editing, as well as copy-editing and proofing — though these will all likely be more limited than with a major publisher. Make sure they at least offer one or two (and definitely developmental editing). It can be worthwhile to pay for additional editing services out of pocket if you think your work could benefit from it.

Major publishers

Major publishers will always handle developmental editing, but they usually go deeper with other forms of editing as well. Not all major publishers are on-board with sensitivity edits, so check out or potential publisher ahead of time to see if that’s something they might offer. You can also speak with your agent about this and get their advice. Line, copy, and proofing is all handled for you in big presses, typically with multiple passes being done to ensure quality before it goes to print.


If you’re submitting short fiction to a magazine, you’ll only need to focus on sensitivity reading (if applicable). Acquisitions editors for these publications will often do a copy edit for you. In most cases, you’ll need to do your own line and developmental editing, however.

Editing is not optional! I get it, I really do: it’s wonderful to finish writing your book and be tempted to just send it racing off toward potential agents, or (worse) straight to market as a self-published book. Do not give in to the temptation.

No matter how good an editor you think you are, your work will improve through the collaborative process that occurs between you and your editorial team.

At the same time, make sure you trust your team. Be willing to listen to them, but also make sure that they’re listening to you. Long-running editorial relationships can change your work, and your career, forever, so don’t skimp on them!

Hi there! I’m Odin Halvorson, an independent scholar, film fanatic, fiction author, and tech enthusiast. If you like my work and want to support me, please consider subscribing to a paid tier for as low as $2.50 per month!

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