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Demystifying the Five Book Editors: A Guide for Writers

So You Want to Write a Book?

Is it fiction? Non-fiction? A bunch of short stories or blogs you want to combine into a book?

Doesn't matter.

Either way, someone along the way has probably told you that you’ll need an editor. Guess what? They're right. You do. But which one? Even a cursory look at the various editors can feel overwhelming. You have:

  • Book Coach

  • Developmental Editor

  • Copyeditor

  • Beta Reader

  • Proofreader

No worries. I’m here to walk you through the five main types of editors and why you’ll need each one.

The Book Coach: Put Me In Coach!

Example of football coach.

Just as an NFL coach helps players with their entire game, Book Coaches help writers with their entire book. (Side note, go Jags!) While not an editor, per se, a Book Coach is someone who can walk alongside you from the first outline to the final draft. They’re a mentor, someone who’s been where you want to be and knows the challenges you’re going to face.


These book editors often know both traditional and self-publishing.

Though you can find a Book Coach who specializes in one or the other, they’re often well-versed in the various methods of publishing. Some of them can even walk you through the entire self-publishing process. They'll lead you from early manuscript to final draft, from book formatting to marketing (hint hint, that's what I do).

These book editors know writing craft.

A good Book Coach will help you fine-tune your craft, picking apart dialogue, action sequences, setting, and description in order to make it as well-written as possible. They’ll examine your theme, character arc(s), and plot to help you ensure your final draft is as coherent and deep as it can be.

A Book Coach could be hired at any stage of the writing process.

The Developmental Editor: Why Early Development is Key

Similar to a Book Coach but taking it one step deeper, a Developmental Editor is concerned with your pacing and structure, with the overall flow of your finished manuscript. They’ll look at your plots and characters to make sure everything tells a coherent story in an engaging manner that moves along at a gripping pace. They’ll ask questions like:

  • Are your characters’ decisions believable? If not, maybe we need to work through some character sheets to understand the characters better.

  • Do the plot points line up closely with major character development moments? This helps ensure that the character arc(s) are engrossing and the readers remain invested.

  • Are there long periods of inaction? You don't have to blow something up every page (or at all), but there should be forward movement in every scene.

  • Do your characters have agency? Again, forward movement. The characters should be driving the plot, not the other way around.

A common time to hire a developmental editor is when the first draft is complete, though you can look for one at almost any point in the writing process. I prefer to work with you from the conception of the idea through the final draft.

The Copyeditor—The Unsung Heroes of Novels Everywhere

Ever read a book and wondered how it made it through the publishing process? Commas everywhere, misspellings galore, too little or too much capitalization? Or, worse yet, the author doesn't know the difference between there, their, and they're?

That's what happens when you skip the copyeditor.

Copyeditors are superheroes.

In my not-so-humble opinion, copyeditors should wear capes and receive massive bonuses. They do the work that writers dread, myself included. They check your grammar, punctuation, syntax, and even continuity. They make sure you're using the right words (affect vs. effect, I still don’t know which).

I've said it before, but when writing Storm of War (shameless plug here) my favorite feedback went exactly like this: “FYI: donkeys bray; goats bleat; horses neigh.”

Thanks Alison. Maybe I should have known better, but that's why you get paid the big bucks.

Copyeditors are the indispensable super heroes of books everywhere. They're also one of the last editors you'll hire, coming after Beta Readers (see below).

Beta Readers—Cheap (or Sometimes Free) Early Reviews

Used at various stages of writing, Beta Readers will read through your manuscript, or a portion of your manuscript if you feel you need a quick bit of help. They'll give you some generalized feedback and react to your writing as a reader and not a fellow writer. You won’t often receive comments on craft or plot, but often something more along the lines of “this section was boring” or “I don’t understand why Johnny made this decision.” Their feedback will be vague, but often that’s easier to work with. You'll get a reader's impression rather than a professional opinion (hint hint, both are important).

Beta Readers will come right before a Copyeditor. They can even be used alongside a Developmental Editor and Book Coach.

Proofreader: The Last Defense

Proofreaders do exactly that: They proofread. They're the last eyes that ever see your manuscript before it hits the bookstores (or Amazon). Yes, even after the copyeditor. Trust me: you’re going to introduce a few errors while fixing the sounds your donkeys make.

Proofreaders can often receive a formatted copy, meaning they're reading it in the same format that your final readers will. They're the least expensive editor by far, but they’re among the least detailed. They're only there to catch any last-minute mistakes: incorrect page numbers, a bad paragraph indent, a missed capitalization, etc. These are the ones who put eyes on your books right before publishing for any final corrections.

Now Go Write!

I hope you've gained a few tools with this little bit of information. Now go and do the most important thing: Write.

Go write!

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