Line editing vs developmental editing: Debunking common misconceptions

As a self-publishing author, you understand the critical importance of editing to refine and prepare your manuscript for publishing. However, the editing world can be perplexing, especially distinguishing between different types of editing services, for instance, what the difference is between line editing vs developmental editing. This article will dispel some of the most common misconceptions surrounding these two editing services, which include ideas that line editing vs developmental editing are the same, that every manuscript requires both types of editing, that authors can self-edit effectively without a professional editor, or that line editing and developmental editing are unnecessary expenses. By the end, you will clearly understand their unique functions of line and developmental editing and the benefits of using a professional editor for your book.

Misconception 1: Line editing and developmental editing are the same.

No, they are not. If an editor implies that line and developmental editing are interchangeable, walk away. In the comparison of line editing vs developmental editing, line editing focuses on the following word and sentence-level elements of your manuscript:

  • wording’s effectiveness,
  • consistency,
  • cohesiveness,
  • alignment with your authorial voice,
  • flow,
  • clarity,
  • tone.

On the other hand, developmental editing assesses the big-picture elements of your manuscript, including the following:

  • structure,
  • plot line,
  • argument,
  • character development,
  • development of supporting arguments,
  • the overall coherence of the narrative.

Misconception 2: Every manuscript requires both types of editing.

This is not true. The editing process is tailored to address the specific needs of your work, taking into account its unique characteristics and current state. While both services are vital in refining your work, only some manuscripts may need both. The editing requirements vary significantly based on the existing strengths and weaknesses of your work. If your manuscript already showcases a well-structured plot or a compelling argument, line editing is the most suitable choice. Line editing elevates your prose by focusing on the finer details, ensuring it resonates with readers.

Conversely, developmental editing becomes the priority if your manuscript lacks a strong foundation or requires substantial improvements in plot development or argument construction. Working with a developmental editor at this stage is immensely beneficial, as they can help you identify areas that need refinement and provide constructive feedback to bring out the full potential of your writing.

Misconception 3: Authors can self-edit effectively without a professional editor.

Not exactly. In the digital age of self-publishing and online resources, many authors may be tempted to believe that they can effectively self-edit their manuscripts without the assistance of a professional editor. While self-editing can help catch obvious errors, it may not address deeper or more technical issues related to plot development, character arcs, pacing, or argument construction. A skilled editor will point out areas for improvement and provide valuable insights and suggestions to enhance your work, elevating it to new creative heights.

Also, self-editing may be insufficient because of authors’ inherent bias towards their own work. After investing substantial time and effort into writing a manuscript, it is natural to become attached to it emotionally. This may lead to overlooking errors, inconsistencies, or weak spots that a fresh pair of eyes can readily identify. Instead, a professional editor will bring objectivity to the process, catching nuances that authors might miss due to their familiarity with the text. They possess a trained eye for identifying weak areas and offer constructive feedback to strengthen your manuscript. Choosing a professional editor not only enhances the overall quality of your writing but also preserves your unique voice and vision.

Misconception 4: Line editing and developmental editing are unnecessary expenses.

They are a worthwhile investment. Some writers believe their writing skills are sufficient to produce a polished manuscript, while others might consider hiring an editor an avoidable financial burden. However, dismissing these essential editing services as unnecessary expenses undermines their profound impact on the quality and success of a manuscript.

While authors undoubtedly have a deep understanding of their material, they may become blind to their errors or overlook opportunities for improvement. Hiring a professional editor provides the advantage of objectivity and a fresh perspective. An editor brings an unbiased eye to your manuscript, catching inconsistencies, plot holes and other issues you might have missed.

This objective evaluation will not only enhance the overall quality of your work but also ensure that it becomes more relevant and authentic to readers. Moreover, a professionally edited book showcases your commitment to delivering a top-notch product, which can boost your credibility as an author and attract a broader audience.

Having your manuscript professionally edited may also improve its chances of being accepted by a publishing house. Although reasons for rejection may vary, over 95% of the rejected manuscripts do not meet the publishing standards, which may include messy language (lack of copyediting) or incoherent plot/argument (need for developmental editing).

Misconception 5: Line editing and developmental fix errors and do not enhance creativity.

Not really. Line editing and developmental editing are not solely about correcting grammar and punctuation mistakes; they are also creative and collaborative processes. A skilled editor refines your writing and works with you to enhance your creative vision. They help shape your manuscript to its fullest potential, preserving the essence of your ideas while elevating the overall impact on your readers.

Another aspect of line and developmental editing is preserving your unique authorial voice. Professional editors understand the importance of maintaining the authenticity of your writing. Instead of imposing their style, they strive to enhance and amplify your voice, ensuring it remains intact throughout the editing process. The result will be a finely tuned manuscript that showcases your creativity and literary flair while benefiting from professional refinement.


For a self-publishing writer, debunking these common misconceptions concerning line editing vs developmental editing empowers you to make informed decisions. Recognizing the unique roles of line editing vs developmental editing will allow you to determine which suits your manuscript’s needs. Furthermore, embracing the idea that hiring a professional editor is an investment in the success of your book and your growth as a writer.

With misconceptions cleared, you can proceed confidently, knowing that professional editing will elevate your work. Remember, the collaboration between an author and an editor is a transformative and rewarding experience, resulting in a masterpiece that captivates and resonates with your audience.

Contact me for a free sample edit if you want a professional pair of eyes to help you declutter your text (and remember to use my early bird discount). 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, a student member of the Society of Indexers and a vetted partner of the Alliance of Independent Authors.