I will hazard a guess that since you’re here, you might be looking for an editor. Or maybe you know you’ll be looking for one sometime, and you’re doing your research. Welcome! And good on ya, thinking ahead like you are!
Here are four somewhat-rhetorical questions to help you decide if and when you’re ready to hire an editor. And if you are, what sort you’re looking for.

Are you stuck in the middle of a story?

You know you’re supposed to write this work, you might even know how it ends, but you’re not sure how to get there, or if your scenes even make sense! You might be ready for a developmental editor.

Dev. editors are used to working with stuck authors, and you don’t have to have your ducks in a row (or even have the flock in the same pond) to team up with one. They’ll help get your plot structure straightened out and some will coach you along the way. You may not always need one, but in the beginning of your writing journey, a dev. editor can be a valuable asset on your team. 

Buzzwords/synonyms: dev. editor, DE, content editor, substantive editor, book coach. 

Have you finished your story but aren’t sure what to do now?

You know you’re supposed to do something. It’s about as done as you can make it, but it doesn’t feel finished. You’re probably ready for a line editor. Line editors are the workhorses of the editing world, and chances are, this is what you think of when you hear the word ‘editor’.  They’re the ones with the red pens and fancy marks. (Except when they use blue or orange pens. Because red has such a negative connotation. True story: my HS English teacher used green for this very reason.)

Officially, they “tighten prose, ensure consistency in language and style, and enhance your voice to best serve the story.” Unofficially, they also encourage/bolster, highlight trends and patterns in your writing, both to help you hear your own voice and to help you avoid your own sandtraps, and generally help you to recognize your best writing so that, eventually, you can do most of their work yourself. 

Buzzwords/synonyms: line editor, LE, just-plain-editor. (there aren’t a whole lot for this one)

Is my book as polished as it can be?

You’ve written your story, you’ve handed your baby over to be edited (perhaps twice) and you really really think it’s ready to publish! Surely you can just get on with it and upload that puppy now. Well… you could. Many do. Many will. But you like to dot every i and cross every t. And what if you missed something? Maybe one more pass won’t hurt. Besides. You’ve never been the best speller, despite your ability to spin tales that keep every hearer on the edge of their proverbial seat!

You, my friend, are in want of a copyeditor! She is the pro who makes your sentences sing. She’ll polish your grammar, syntax, spelling, and punctuation, and look for any discrepancies in the manuscript. Just as the line editor highlighted trends and patterns in your writing, she’ll highlight favorite words and phrases, and help you to replace them or space them as needed. She’ll help you find exactly the right words for concise, precise storytelling. And she’ll help you know when to use that tricky semicolon effectively!

Buzzwords/synonyms: copy editor/copy-editor, CE, technical (tech) editor, proofreader (this is tricky, but while it can look very similar, it isn’t, and we’ll cover it below)

Am I done yet?

Okay, you’ve been through all the editing stages from developmental to copyediting, you’ve self-edited and double-checked until your eyes are crossed and you’ve uploaded your book-baby to self-publishing finishing school. She is ready! Surely there can’t be any more to this process! 

Honestly… at this point you might be right. But, if you’re as obsessed with print perfection as I am, there is one more thing. Proofreading! As I alluded to above, this isn’t quite the same as copyediting, although in these modern printing times they are often used interchangeably. In ‘ye olden dayes’ the proofreader would read the galleys (or proofs) of the type-set book in print form. This was handy not just for the typos, but also to be sure there weren’t odd spacing issues or widows and orphans. Often, an author will do this for herself or a hired formatter will do it. But some editors like me will do it too. It’s FUN! 

Synonym: Proofer
Not-quite-synonym: Copy editor/copy-editor/copyeditor

There you have it: the four major types of editing and how to discern which type you’re looking for. If you ever have a question about what I or other editors mean when we start throwing out buzzwords, please ask! I love talking about editing, the work of an editor, and how we partner with writers. You can always schedule a consultation. I’m happy to help, no strings attached.