Working with editors: Who does what?

Writers have to write and with very few exceptions, they have to do that alone. For most writers, the creative process requires solitude with a minimum of distractions. Writing can be a lonely job, and every writer deals with that need for time alone in his or her own way.

Ocean Vuong, author of the acclaimed “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous,” frequently found a sort of solitude at a corner table in a Popeye’s fast food restaurant in lower Manhattan. “When you are static in that space, you realize that you almost become invisible,” he told an interviewer for The New Yorker. “The location absorbs you, which is a wonderful way to work.” 

A century earlier, novelist Virginia Woolf had to deal with her own distractions. “I’ve shirked two parties, and another Frenchman, and buying a hat, and tea with Hilda Trevelyan,” she wrote in her diary, “for I really can’t combine all this with keeping all my imaginary people going.”

As a writer, you have developed your own strategies for working alone. However, when your writing is done, you can look forward to working with a whole team of editors dedicated to transforming your manuscript into a beautiful book. Let’s take a look at what editors may do behind the scenes – with the important caveat that different publishers can rely on different combinations of these roles, depending on the book, author, and other considerations.

Editorial Coach 

When a writer runs into challenges – such as organizing content, managing research, developing characters, finding time to write, or staying motivated – a good publisher will assign him or her to an editorial coach. These people may be writers themselves, with special skills in project management. From first draft to final revision, an experienced editorial coach can help you meet your goals.  

First Reader

Early on, your publisher may assign an editorial professional to read your first draft and provide valuable feedback. This person will not issue a detailed critique but rather share objective first impressions of your book’s overall strengths and weaknesses. If you know other writers who could give you impartial feedback, you could ask them to be additional first readers.

Editorial Evaluator 

Some publishers will have an editor conduct a manuscript assessment to evaluate over-arching issues, such as the viability of a book’s plot, organization and structure, characters, and themes, with an eye toward marketability and audience. 

Developmental Editor

A developmental editor will also take a big-picture view of your book, but will write a more detailed overall evaluation with page-by-page notes on the writing and content. This comprehensive assessment will go back to the author for review and revisions.  

Substantive Editor

Plot revision or character development is not in the purview of a substantive editor, sometimes called a line editor. Instead, this editor reads line by line to see if each sentence flows well, belongs where it is placed, and fits the book’s tone. These masters of nuance will also flag mis-used words, unclear meanings, and variations in the book’s “voice.” 

Copy Editor

A copy editor corrects errors in grammar, punctuation, spelling and inconsistencies with the publisher’s style. Their reading is in-depth and thorough, with additional attention to such matters as awkward construction, errors in parallelism or verb tenses, and consistency in details. Copy editors also check facts presented in the book, including dates, places, names, and other types of information. The author reviews the copy editor’s work and revises accordingly.  


After the pages of the book are typeset and laid out by a designer, proofreading begins. Proofreading provides the last measure of quality control for a book. The proofreader studies the page proof for formatting consistencies and compares it to the copy editor’s marked-up manuscripts to ensure all changes were input properly. Although many sets of eyes have gone over every page, invariably a good proofreader will find errors that the others have missed! 


Dudley Court Press

Dudley Court Press works with writers like you every day. As a contemporary publishing company, we help thoughtful people write and publish books for all sorts of reasons. For more information about our Developmental Editing, Coaching, Consulting and Professional Self-Publishing options, please reach us at +1-520-329-2729 or

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