Developmental editing vs line editing: Which service does your manuscript need?

To decide between developmental editing vs line editing for your manuscript, understanding the distinct roles these services play is essential. Developmental and line editing serve different purposes in the editing process, each contributing to refining your work in unique ways. Developmental editing focuses on refining your manuscript’s overall structure, plot, argument, evidence and characters, making it suitable for texts needing substantial improvements. On the other hand, line editing targets sentence structures, language and style to enhance readability and coherence. This article breaks down these two services to help you understand their differences, common misconceptions surrounding them, their comparison in time and cost and how to determine which best suits your manuscript’s needs.

Developmental editing vs line editing: What is the difference between?

Before diving into the specifics of developmental editing vs line editing, let us tackle the key differences between these two critical stages in the editing process. Each plays a distinctive role in shaping a manuscript, catering to different aspects needing improvement. Understanding their unique focus and objectives will help determine which service aligns best with your manuscript’s requirements.


  • Developmental editing: Focuses on the overall structure and content of the manuscript, helping to shape the story, characters, evidence, argument, themes and ideas. It aims to enhance the text’s coherence, flow, and impact.
  • Line editing: Concentrates on the language and style within each sentence and paragraph. Its goal is to refine the prose, making it more engaging and readable while maintaining the author’s voice.


  • Developmental editing: Addresses big-picture elements like the plot, character development, pacing, use of evidence, structure of argument, flow of ideas and story arcs. It involves substantial revisions and rearrangements to ensure a compelling and coherent narrative.
  • Line editing: Pays attention to the finer details of language, sentence structure, grammar, and register. It fine-tunes the manuscript on a micro level to enhance clarity, rhythm and overall writing quality. It ensures that the manuscript will resonate with the target reader.


  • Developmental editing: Provides comprehensive feedback on the story, plot holes, character motivations, evidence supporting the argument and thematic coherence. It guides the author through substantial revisions and helps them build a stronger foundation for their work. The feedback is usually delivered in the form of a report.
  • Line editing: Offers feedback on sentence-level improvements, such as phrasing, word choice and syntax. It focuses on refining the prose to ensure a smooth reading experience. Feedback is usually enclosed in the manuscript, using track changes and comments.

Editor’s involvement

  • Developmental editing: Requires deep involvement as the editor collaborates closely with the author to reshape significant portions of the manuscript. It often involves back-and-forth discussions to refine the text’s core elements.
  • Line editing: Involves moderate interaction, with the editor working to enhance the language while maintaining the author’s voice. The editor usually communicates their suggestions in the comments enclosed in the document.

Author’s involvement

  • Developmental editing: Demands a significant amount of author involvement, as they may need to rework characters, scenes, gaps in the argument, missing evidence or major plot holes based on the editor’s suggestions.
  • Line editing: Requires the author’s engagement to implement language and style improvements, but it typically does not require as extensive revisions as developmental editing.

Developmental editing vs line editing: What are common misconceptions?

There are many misconceptions surrounding editing processes. Let us look at the most common ones concerning the two editorial services to clarify their distinct roles and benefits.

Developmental editing

  • Purely corrective role: One common misconception is that developmental editing is about fixing errors and polishing sentences. In reality, it goes beyond surface-level corrections. It focuses on the larger picture — plot, structure, character development, argument flow, use of evidence and overall coherence.
  • Lack of attention to language: Some believe developmental editors pay no attention to grammar and language issues. While their primary focus is not on these aspects, they still may provide feedback and suggestions for improvement to enhance the manuscript’s overall quality.

Line editing

  • Equivalent to proofreading: One prevailing misconception is that line editing and proofreading are the same. Line editing, unlike proofreading, delves into the manuscript’s style, tone, and overall flow, ensuring the writing is engaging and resonates with the target audience.
  • Comprehensive rewrite: Another misconception is that line editors will rewrite the entire manuscript. Their goal is to enhance the existing text, making necessary revisions while preserving the author’s voice and style.

Developmental editing vs line editing: How long do they take?

It is important to understand how developmental and line editing differ in duration and complexity. Line editing, which involves detailed manuscript analysis on a line-by-line basis to enhance language effectiveness, is generally quicker than developmental editing due to its focused nature.

The Editorial Freelancers Association suggests that an hour of line editing can result in the editing of 4–8 pages, with a standard page containing around 250 words. Therefore, for a 50,000-word book, a line editor might require approximately 25–50 hours to complete the task.

On the contrary, developmental editing demands more time due to its more in-depth and multifaceted nature. Beginning with a focused reading of the entire manuscript, developmental editors undertake detailed notes, an editorial report, and fact-checking as part of their editing journey. According to the Editorial Freelancers Association estimates, developmental editing might cover 4–10 pages per hour. Thus, a 50,000-word book would likely require 20–50 hours for a developmental editor to finalise the editing process.

Developmental editing vs line editing: How much do they cost?

As per the Editorial Freelancers Association estimations, the pricing for developmental editing spans the following range:

 Rate per wordRate per hourPace of work per hour

The Editorial Freelancers Association offers the following rates per word and per hour for line editing:

 Rate per wordRate per hourPace of work per hour
Fiction2.5¢–4.0¢ $45.00–$60.00 5.0–8.0 
Non-fiction3.5¢–5.0¢ $50.00–$65.00 4.0–7.0 
Academic4.0¢–6.0¢ $45.00–$65.00 4.0–8.0 
Business4.0¢–6.0¢ $50.00–$70.00 5.0–8.0 
Legal5.0¢–15.5¢ $60.00–$75.00 5.0–8.5 
Medical4.0¢–6.0¢ $50.00–$65.00 3.0–6.0 
Technical4.0¢–6.0¢ $50.00–$65.00 4.0–7.0 
Other4.0¢–6.3¢ $50.00–$70.00 4.0–6.0 

In the UK, the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading recommends the starting hourly minimum rate is £39.90.

The rates for these editing services can vary significantly based on factors such as the manuscript’s requirements, the timeline, and the editor’s specialised expertise or experience. The quotes you receive from different editors might be presented in diverse formats. Thus, make a note of the price structure, which can be presented in the following formats:

  • per hour,
  • per word,
  • per 1,000 words,
  • per page,
  • per project.

How do you choose the right editorial service between developmental editing vs line editing?

Choosing between developmental editing vs line editing for your manuscript requires careful consideration. Your choice will significantly impact the overall quality and effectiveness of your future book. Here are some key factors to guide you in making the right decision.

Manuscript needs and goals

  • Developmental editing: If your manuscript requires significant structural changes, content enhancement and overall improvement in narrative flow, developmental editing is the way to go. This service focuses on shaping the core elements of your book, ensuring it meets its intended objectives.
  • Line editing: If your manuscript’s content is already well-structured and coherent but requires refinement in terms of language, style and clarity, line editing is the appropriate choice. This service polishes the sentences and paragraphs, enhancing the overall reading experience.

Time constraints

  • Developmental editing: Keep in mind that developmental editing involves a more extensive and time-consuming process due to the in-depth revisions required. If you have a more flexible timeline and budget and, developmental editing is a suitable investment.
  • Line editing: If you are working with a tighter timeline, line editing can provide practical improvements without the extensive overhaul that developmental editing entails within shorter time.

Editorial expertise

  • Developmental editing: Choose developmental editors who specialise in restructuring your manuscript, creating compelling characters, refining plot arcs, evidence analysis or enhancing the overall narrative. Remember to check if they have experience with the genre your manuscript represents.
  • Line editing: Opt for line editors whose primary focus is the clarity and functionality of language and style. Line editors focus on sentence-level improvements, ensuring your writing is clear, engaging, and polished. Still, it is important they have experience editing the genre of your manuscript to make sure it will resonate with the target readers’ expectations.

Final thoughts

The choice between developmental editing vs line editing holds substantial significance. While both services enhance your book’s overall quality, they address distinct aspects of the text. Developmental editing tackles the core elements, reshaping the structure and content to align with your vision and goals. On the other hand, line editing refines the language and style, ensuring your manuscript is polished and engaging on a sentence level.

As you navigate this decision, consider your manuscript’s specific needs, timeline and budget. Are you seeking fundamental transformations to your storyline, characters, and narrative flow? Or do you require a meticulous refinement of language and clarity to ensure your writing shines? Acknowledging these factors will guide you towards the right choice.

Remember, each manuscript is unique, and the path to perfection varies. By understanding the differences between developmental editing vs line editing and aligning them with your objectives, you can confidently choose the service that best suits your manuscript’s needs. With the proper editorial support, you can bring your book to its full potential, ensuring it resonates with your readers and stands out in the competitive publishing world. Contact me for a free sample edit (and remember to use my early bird discount) to determine if your manuscript may benefit from developmental editing or line editing. If you want to hear more from me, including self-editing and writing tips, follow me on Mastodon, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, or join my newsletter.

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I am an editor, indexer and a lifelong lover of literature with a PhD in literary history. I am an Intermediate Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP), a student member of the Society of Indexers and a vetted partner of the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi).