Stages of Editing

The need for good editing spans every industry and is essential for putting out quality content for your audience. Whether you are a novelist, a blogger, a marketing professional, or a small business owner, you need an established process for refining your message.

The different stages of editing can sometimes be confusing, so I am here to break it down. Simply put, all editing falls into two categories: macro and micro.


Looking at the whole, creative picture, macro editing is most commonly referred to as developmental editing, structural editing, substantive editing, or content editing. This is where an editor looks at character development, plot holes, story format, pacing, and the effectiveness of the manuscript. A developmental editor helps you elevate your work in a way that makes sense to you the writer, the reader, and the publisher. This part of the process is vital to story development and can help you get published instead of passed over.

While many writers opt to hire out for these services and partner with an expert, some authors elect to self-edit certain portions of their work. However an author chooses to go through the process, following the editing stages allows a project to stand out in the right way and avoid unnecessary errors.


On the technical side, micro editing is perfecting your words on a line-by-line basis. Between line editing, copyediting, and proofreading, your work is checked for word usage, grammar, syntax, formatting, readability, and clarity. For proofreaders and editors like myself, this is where the nitty-gritty becomes fun, and the grammar nerd comes out!

Stage 1

The first stage falls into the macro editing category and involves looking at the story as a whole. Here you are potentially working with a book coach or a developmental editor to refine and rework parts of the project that don't quite fit or make sense.

Beta Reading

A beta reader ensures the story you meant to tell is actually coming across well and is something that others want to read. Receiving feedback at the early stages of editing can be one of the most helpful parts of the process, so you don't pass along something to a copy editor that is not cohesive and requires substantially more work than you thought. It gives you a good indication of how much developmental editing is needed before you hire out for those services.

It's important to note that beta readers can range from family and friends to a professional. It all depends on your budget and level of trust!

Manuscript Evaluation

A manuscript evaluator looks at your story as a whole and provides feedback on its entirety. It is a great option for those preparing for the developmental editing process as it gives you notes to reference and implement before you begin.

Developmental Editing

I like to say a developmental editor becomes your best friend because they help you intensively dig into your words to find the best way to present them to your audience. A developmental editor questions the following:

  • Is the point of view effective?

  • Do the characters have a good arc and develop well?

  • Does the story flow well and make sense?

  • Are there plot holes?

  • Is there a deeper meaning that comes through?

The developmental process can be quite involved as large portions of the project could be tossed out, moved around, or expanded upon. While technical, sentence-level editing isn't tackled yet, this stage is vital for getting the structure and foundation correct.

Sensitivity Reading

Language matters. That is why it is very common to hire a sensitivity specialist who understands what things in your manuscript may bother your readers.

Accidentally publishing a work that is offensive or misrepresents a culture, illness, gender, etc. can be devastating, so hiring someone to do the appropriate research or someone who has extensive experience with these topics avoids antiquated stereotypes and inappropriate language.

Stage 2

Now that the foundation has been laid, we move on to the technical (woot woot!) side of editing.

Line Editing

Sentence-level editing begins here. It's time to check phrasing for:

  • Awkwardness

  • Repetitiveness

  • Ambiguities

  • Inconsistencies

  • Poor structure

  • Cliches

Each sentence is reviewed to ensure it is the strongest and most effective way to propel the story forward and draw the reader in.


This step of the process is often mistaken for proofreading, but it is actually a deeper level of editing that checks for and corrects errors in the text. Copyediting includes/evaluates:

  • Word choice

  • Clear sentence structure

  • Proper formatting

  • Consistent style (spelling, capitalization, hyphens, dashes, etc.)

  • Re-writing/reorganizing sentences or paragraphs

  • Creating a style guide

  • Checking facts for accuracy

Most typically, editors offer both line editing and copyediting as a service together because they go hand in hand to make sure your document is error-free and refined for clarity.

Stage 3


The very final step in the editing process is proofreading! With one final pass through the project, minor errors in spelling, grammar, formatting, and punctuation are caught.

Your proofreader should be familiar with your style guide and personal preferences for punctuation/spelling (if applicable.) I highly recommend hiring out for this last step. We are all human and an error can pop up in a document that has been edited several times simply by its ever-changing nature. If you've been too close to a story for too long, you often miss the little things because you've read it so much.


I hope this step-by-step blog helps clarify exactly how an established editing process works and which parts you may need for your business or manuscript. I personally specialize in partnering with creatives and business owners to refine their copy, nail their branding, and share their unique voice.

Understanding what you're trying to accomplish and implementing the appropriate editing strategy for you is all part of my free consultation and collaborative process. Have questions? Shoot me a message, and let's connect! I offer virtual coffee dates for anyone looking to chat about their business or latest project.

Keep killing the editing game!

Rachel (Founder & CEO, Mercer Editorial Services)

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