skip to Main Content
Everything You Need To Know About Fiction Editing

Everything You Need To Know About Fiction Editing

Getting your first book edited can be an overwhelming experience. There's different types of editors, huge swings in price ranges and that's all before you receive the feedback itself. ALLi partner member and CEO of Fictionary.co Kristina Stanley, is here to explain everything you need to know about fiction editing.

Fiction Editing with Kristina Stanley

Kristina Stanley, CEO of Fictionary.co

Why Is Fiction Editing so Complicated?

Let’s start with the terms. Substantive, developmental, structural, line, copyedit, proofread. Lost yet? When I started as an author, I researched these terms to figure out what they meant. Now that I’m a fiction editor, I want to uncomplicated this for you.

It’s important to understand the terms whether you’re editing your own story or using a human editor. I’ll explain why once I’ve cleared up the terms.

We’ll cover

  • What each term means
  • Why each type of edit is required
  • When to perform each type
  • What to expect from each type of editor
  • What to do with the feedback you get it

The Terms

Story Editing

Substantive, developmental, structural, and line editing all mean the same thing. We’re going to call all of these Story Editing.

So why use the term Story Editing when there are existing terms? Substantive, developmental, structural and line editing are industry terms, but really how do non-intuitive terms help a writer?

Editing is sometimes thought of as changing a poorly written phrase into a better one. Story editing is so much more. It means looking at the characters and asking why each one is in the story. It means looking for patterns, finding emotion, evaluating the structure of scenes, chapters and word count. It means testing the setting against the plot and so on.

A Story Editor will evaluate:

  • The story arc
  • Word count – for your genre and per scene
  • Characters
  • Plot
  • Settings
  • Story flow and pacing(Scene openings and scene endings)
  • Consistency and clarity
  • Theme

After a Story Edit, you, the author, will end up rewriting scenes in your manuscript to improve content and structure. This is the most time-consuming step of editing, however, the effort spent on evaluating and rewriting your draft will ensure your story makes sense and is ready to copyedit, proofread, and share.


Once the story is powerful, it’s time to get into the details of each sentence with a focus on style. A copyeditor checks for:

  • Language errors including punctuation, grammar, and spelling
  • Run-on sentences (you may want these in dialogue or thought—just make sure you do this on purpose)
  • Repeated information or words
  • Clichés
  • Too much description
  • Unclear or confusing passages
  • Boring or passive language
  • Showing versus telling
  • Too many adverbs
  • Sentence length variation
  • Consistent spelling (For example: USA versus Canada versus the UK)
  • Consistent hyphenation, fonts, and capitalization


At this phase, an editor shouldn’t be finding too many errors. This is the final check before sending a manuscript to an editor, agent, publisher, or self publishing. You’ll notice you’re not changing your story or your style. Here you’ll check for final spelling or grammar mistakes, then ask yourself:

  • Are all chapter headings formatted the same?
  • Are any pages or headings omitted?
  • Are scene break characters consistent?
  • Is the page numbering consistent?
  • Are the headers and footers formatted the same?
  • Are italics consistently used?
  • Are paragraph indents formatted the same?
  • Are there any double or triple spaces between words?
  • Are there any double spaces after a period?
  • Are times formatted the same — am, a.m. AM?
  • Is the spacing between ellipses consistent (… and not . . . )?

I made a mistake when I was working with my publisher on the final proofread of my first novel. My publisher was kind enough to give me a chance to perform a final proofread, and I suggested changes to things that should have been made in the copyediting phase. My publisher was not happy. I was embarrassed, but I didn’t make that mistake on my second book.

What to Expect From An Editor

I’ve edited several novels where the writer had already had one edit performed on their story. These authors all thought they’d paid for a story edit, but they actually received a copyedit. When I performed a story edit for them, I think it was a bit of an eye opener (to use a cliche).

Because of this, I want to share what you should get in exchange for your money for each type of editing. Usually the most expensive edit is a story edit, followed by a copyedit, and then a proofread.

Story Editing

A story edit is the most difficult type of edit to perform. It requires a strong knowledge of what makes a powerful story, creativity, objectivity, discipline, and hard work.

For a Story Edit you should receive:

  • A summary letter explaining what is great in your story and what you need to work on. The letter should include explanations of each recommendations.
  • Notes on a per scene level.
  • Inline comments with recommendations at the sentence level. This does not mean commenting on styles, it means comments on structure.
  • Inline additions and deletions using track changes.
  • Copyediting only when there is a repetitive mistake of breaking a grammar rule or style rule. For example, not starting a new paragraph for each new speaker.

What you should not receive:

  • An in-depth copyedit or proofread.

You’re paying for a high-end story edit. From this edit, unless your story is almost perfect, you should be receiving recommendations that cause you to change your story, revise scenes, move scenes around, cut in places, and add depth in others. This means you’ll be doing a lot of revising, so why copyedit and proofread things that are going to be changed. This is a waste of time and money.

You may also have negotiated followup questions via email or a phone/video call. I like to include an hour video call. I find the author usually needs a week or two to go through the suggestions and comments, and then it’s a good time to answer any questions they have.  Some editors send the edited manuscript back with no follow up included. Both methods work and depend on what you’re looking for. Just make sure you know up front what deal you’ve made with the editor.

You also don’t want the edit to focus on copyediting and proofreading as that is a different skill from story editing. An editor who is focussing too much on the word or sentence level is probably not focussing on your story.


Even if you love the editor who performed a story edit, I recommend using a different editor for the next phase of editing. Your story editor will have read your story several times. This means it will be hard for them to see errors. It becomes like reading your own story.

If I’m asked to perform a copyedit or proofread on a story I’ve story edited, I say no and recommend a good copyeditor or proofreader. I don’t believe I could to a good job. FirstEditing.com is a great place to start looking for an editor.

A good copyeditor will ask for sample and that will help them assess how much to charge for the work.


Before you send your manuscript to anyone, I mean anyone, proofread it. If you’re looking for comments from beta readers or a writing critique group, it’s important for your readers to focus on the story and not typos. If you’re sending your manuscript to an editor, the less time they have to spend on proofreading the less expensive it will be.

A good proofreader will ask for sample and that will help them assess how much to charge for the work.

If you’re sending your manuscript to an agent or a publisher, you have a much better chance of being accepted if your work is professional.

A publisher will perform a second proofread prior to publication, but that doesn’t mean they’ll accept errors in a submission.

When to Send Your Manuscript to an Editor

Story Editing

If you’ve read my bio, you already know I’m the CEO of Fictionary. I created Fictionary to help writers edit their own manuscript and tell powerful stories.

Before you send your manuscript to a story editor, perform your own story edit. This will teach you an amazing amount about what it means to tell a powerful story, help you deliver a professional level story to an editor, and reduce the editing bill.

Editors love to work on powerful stories. Their dream is that you publish a best-seller. Who doesn’t want to be associated with greatness?

Copyediting and Proofreading

Perform your own copyedit and proofread first.

Both ProWritingAid and Grammarly are great online tools for copyediting and proofreading. I use both, ‘cause I like them both. Then I move on to a human proofreader.

What to Send an Editor

For all three types of editing, an editor may ask you for a sample. This helps the editor determine the price. Not all editors ask for this, and that’s okay, too.

A story editor will need more information from you than a copyeditor or a proofreader. The latter needs your manuscript.

For a story editor, be prepared to deliver the following:

  1. Total word count: The editor will use this for pricing and reviewing genre expectations.
  2. Blurb: I recommend sending a blurb but not a synopsis. A synopsis gives away the ending of the story. It will be difficult for the editor react as if they reading the story for the first time. They’ll lose the ability to determine if a plot twist worked or not.
  3. Genre: Some editors specialize in specific genres, others in commercial fiction, and others in literary fiction. Knowing the genre helps the editor know if they are a good fit for you and if your story is following the genre guidelines.
  4. Character List: Some editors ask for a character list ahead of time. They’ll want to know who the protagonist and antagonist is. This helps them read and pay attention to how you’re introducing major and minor characters.
  5. POV: An editor may also want to know what point of view you’re writing in. There’s a big difference between third and first person, between single and multiple points of view, and the editor will want to check you’re being consistent.
  6. Format the manuscript: As an editor, I ask the writer to have the manuscript formatted properly before sending it to me. This tells me if the author is serious about their story, are mindful of industry standards, and are willing to work hard. I love working with authors who are as engaged in the editing process as I am.

Dealing with Feedback

I don’t mean emotionally. I’m not an expert in that. I mean practically. You’ve probably guessed by now this depends of the type of edit you’ve had done.

Story Editing

This one’s the biggie. You may need months to revise your story after you’ve received a story edit. Even if your manuscript is close to publication ready, there may be a recommended structural change that takes time to fix.


I know some writers click accept all and figure they're done. I strongly recommend not doing this. Editors are people, and people make mistakes. Although the first rule of editing is DO NOT INTRODUCE MISTAKES, mistakes happen. You’ll want to check each and every recommended change before accepting them.

This takes time, but once your novel is published, it’s too late to fix errors.


The same advice for copyediting applies here. Your story—your responsibility.

That’s the gist of editing. Please leave any questions or comments below. I’m a story editing advisor for ALLi and would love to help.

Special Discount for ALLi Members

Are you an ALLi member who would like to try Fictionary StoryTeller? Fictionary StoryTeller has a 14-day free trial with no credit card required.  You get a 20% discount on the monthly subscription for as long as you subscribe. You can find your discount coupon under Discounts & Services for editors at the Alliance of Independent Authors in the members section.

Learn more about Fictionary.co here.

The Definitive Guide to Story Editing — Everything An Author Needs to Know @TheStoryEditor #selfpublishing #IARTG #ASMRG #amwriting #writingcommunity #writetip Share on X


Did you know the difference between the types of editors? Will this change the type of editor you go for next time?

If you enjoyed this post, you might like these from the ALLi archive:

Author: Kristina Stanley

Combining her degree in computer mathematics with her success as a bestselling, award-winning author and fiction editor, Kristina Stanley is the creator and CEO of Fictionary - creative editing software for fiction writers and editors. She is a Fictionary Certified Story Coach and Story Editing Advisor to Alliance Of Independent Authors.
Her novels include The Stone Mountain mystery series and Look the Other Way. Her non-fiction title The Authors Guide to Selling Books to Non-Bookstores helps Indie authors sell books. She's on the board of directors for the Story Studio Writing Society, a charity that inspires, educates and empowers youth to be great storytellers. She’s a passionate guide-dog trainer and hiker.


This Post Has 7 Comments
  1. That’s an interesting article! I like your approach of grouping developmental / structural / line under ‘Story Editing’. I personally differentiate between ‘developmental’ and ‘line editing’ as they can be two distinct services.

  2. Hi Kristina. I’m trying my luck here… do you know of any sites/associations/companies i should join/contact as an editor? The competition is tough. I have had a full time job for 35 years and am about to retire. I was trained at a Publishing Company many years ago but then changed careers. I am busy setting up to work as a freelancer so that once I do retire, I will have something to keep me busy.

    Thanks in advance for your consideration

  3. Hi, I found the article very helpful, and I’d like to ask a question or two before I proceed to get my first about-to-be-self-published medieval fantasy novel edited. I already workshopped it through a writer’s group of published authors (one of whom has won awards for her novels, including best Canadian Fantasy) and my current manuscript is my third draft. Do I still need to get it story-edited, or should I jump straight to the copy-editing phase? Also, I am a Canadian author–should I be mindful of that when hiring writing services professionals?

    Thank you,Judith

  4. Hi Arlene,
    Thank you for the lovely comments. Story editing is my passion, and I love working with writers. As a writer too, I know how important editing is. All the best to you. Kristina

  5. Thank you Kristina,
    This summary of what the specialty editors are called, what they do and what tight author must also do in working with them is super information that is difficult to find in one spot. I appreciate your conciseness and clarity and suspect that you are a superb editor yourself!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Latest advice, news, ratings, tools and trends.

Back To Top
×Close search