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Writer's Digest presents an excerpt from my webinar, "Three Secrets of the Greats: Structure Your Story for Ultimate Reader Addiction."

Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn, one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers, interviews me about storytelling, writing, independent editing, and the difference between literary fiction and genre, with an impromptu exercise on her own Work-in-Progress.

Editing client Stu Wakefield, author of the Kindle #1 Best Seller Body of Water, talks about our work together on Memory of Water, the second novel of his Water trilogy.

  • By Victoria Mixon

    What’s the difference between Copy Editing, Line Editing, and Developmental Editing?

    I’m so glad you asked!

    Copy Editing

    Copy Editing refers to grammar and punctuation. (Sometimes both Copy Editing and Line Editing are referred to as Copy Editing, and sometimes both are referred to as Line Editing, but they are in fact two distinctly different things.) Copy Editing is about written communication, so it’s just following the rules: American English, British English, and mixes like Canadian and Australian English.

    Very little of it is a judgment call. I do Copy Editing in-line, meaning I write right in or on the manuscript. I also throw it in pretty much as a perk with Line Editing because, although the vast majority of cheap editors out there right now are simple Copy Editors, it’s not really all that hard. There’s none of it you can’t look up for yourself.

    NOTE: Copy Editing is not proofreading. All manuscripts have typos, which get past even the most diligent of editors. Always proofread your finished manuscript for typos. Word provides Spellcheck and Grammarcheck, which can make proofreading easier (although beware Word’s bugs, such as its misunderstanding of “who” and “whom.”) Proofreading should be done by more than one person, and it can be done free by friends and loved ones. The best technique for proofreading is to read each sentence backward.

    Sample Copy & Line Editing.

    Line Editing

    Line editing refers to prose. It’s about the craft of writing, and that means paragraph structure, sentence flow, word choice, and language-related techniques. That also means voice, style, readability, and forward movement. And in fiction it means the difference between scenes and exposition.

    This is what distinguishes professional from amateur writing, and it takes a long time to develop a really good ear for it. I’ve been developing mine for thirty years. It can be a bit shocking to read your own words Line Edited, but it is also an enormous thrill. Your story in professional voice! I also do Line Editing in-line.

    Sample Copy & Line Editing.

    Developmental Editing

    Developmental Editing refers to storytelling, both the art and the craft. This involves not just plot structure, but also character development and motivation, theme, premise, symbolism, tension, pacing, and the author’s search for truth. Truth? Yes, truth. That’s the art of storytelling.

    There are rules to plot that, while not enforced through venerable documentation like grammar and punctuation guides, are enforced by readers who put down badly-structured or -imagined books and walk away. I make available as much of my general knowledge of Developmental Issues as possible through my blog and advice column, but the truth is books are vastly complex entities, and each comes with its own unique challenges. This is where hiring an Independent Editor becomes the most economical choice for the serious writer, as you learn far more from a mentor walking you through your manuscript over a period of time than you ever can from attending conference after conference after conference.

    For an Abbreviated Developmental Edit, I send the author a letter discussing Developmental Issues. For a regular Developmental Edit of a full novel, my client and I discuss Developmental Issues by email over the course of several weeks.

    Sample Developmental Editing Letter.


    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories



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One Response to “Copy, Line, & Developmental Editing Explained”

  1. […] editing, line editing and copy editing.  {Update:  Victoria Mixon was kind enough to point me to this page where she details the differences between the various types of editing.} The general consensus – […]


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MILLLICENT G. DILLON, represented by Harold Ober Associates, is the world’s expert on authors Jane and Paul Bowles. She has won five O. Henry Awards and been nominated for the PEN/Faulkner. I worked with Dillon on her memoir, The Absolute Elsewhere, in which she describes in luminous prose her private meeting with Albert Einstein to discuss the ethics of the atomic bomb. Read more. . .

SASHA TROYAN is a Professor of English at Montclair University and author of the critically-acclaimed novels Angels in the Morning and The Forgotten Island, both Booksense Selections, beautiful stories based upon her childhood in France. I worked with Troyan to develop her new novels, Marriage A Trois and Semester. Read more. . .

LUCIA ORTH is the author of the debut novel, Baby Jesus Pawn Shop, which received critical acclaim from Publisher’s Weekly, NPR, Booklist, Library Journal and Small Press Reviews. I have edited a number of essays and articles for Orth. Read more. . .

BHAICHAND PATEL, retired after an illustrious career with the United Nations, is now a journalist based out of New Dehli and Bombay, an expert on Bollywood, and author of three non-fiction books published by Penguin. I edited Patel’s best-selling debut novel, Mothers, Lovers, and Other Strangers, published by Pan Macmillan. Read more. . .

SCOTT WILBANKS, represented by Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency, is the author of the debut novel, The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster, published by Sourcebooks in August, 2015. I’m working with Wilbanks on his sophomore novel, Easy Pickens, the story of the world’s only medically-diagnosed case of chronic naiveté. Read more. . .

SCOTT WARRENDER is a professional musician and Annie Award-nominated lyricist specializing in musical theater. I work with Warrender regularly on his short stories and debut novel, Putaway. Read more. . .

M. TERRY GREEN enjoys a successful self-publishing career with multiple sci-fi/fantasy series set in the Multiverse, based upon her expertise in anthropology and technology. I worked with Green to develop a new speculative fiction series. Read more. . .

DARREN D. BEYER is an ex-NASA experiment engineer who has worked on every Space Shuttle orbiter but Challenger. In his sci-fi Anghazi Series, Beyer uses his scientific expertise to create a galaxy in which “space bridges” allow interstellar travel based upon the latest in real theoretical physics. Read more. . .

ANIA VESENNY, represented by Beverly Slopen Literary Agency, is a recipient of the Evelyn Sullivan Gilbertson Award for Emerging Artist in Literature and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I edited Vesenny’s debut novel, Swearing in Russian at the Northern Lights, and her second novel, Sandara. Read more. . .

STUART WAKEFIELD is the #1 Kindle Best Selling author of Body of Water, the first novel in his Orcadian Trilogy. Body of Water was 1 of 10 books long-listed for the Polari First Book Prize. I edited Wakefield’s second novel, Memory of Water, and look forward to editing the final novel of his Orcadian Trilogy, Spirit of Water. Read more. . .

GERALDINE EVANS is a best-selling British author. Her historical novel, Reluctant Queen, is a Category No 1 Best Seller on Amazon UK. I edited Death Dues, #11 in Evans’ fifteen popular Rafferty and Llewellyn cozy police procedurals, which received a glowing review from the Midwest Book Review. Read more. . .

JUDY LEE DUNN is an award-winning marketing blogger. I am working with Dunn to develop and line edit her memoir of reconciling liberal activism with her emotional difficulty accepting the lesbianism of her beloved daughter, Tonight Show comedienne Kellye Rowland. Read more. . .

LISA MERCADO-FERNANDEZ writes literary novels of love, loss, and friendship set in the small coastal towns of New England. I edited Mercado-Fernandez’ debut novel The Shoebox and second novel The Eighth Summer. Read more. . .

JEFF RUSSELL is the author of the debut novel, The Rules of Love and Law, based upon Jeff’s abiding passions for legal history and justice. Read more. . .

LEN JOY is the author of the debut novel, American Past Time. I worked with Len to develop his novel from its core: a short story about the self-destructive ambitions of a Minor League baseball star. Read more. . .

ALEX KENDZIORSKI is an American physician working in South Africa on community health education and wildlife conservation. I edited Kendziorski’s debut novel Wait a Season for Their Names about the endangered African painted wolf, for which he is donating the profits to wildlife conservation. Read more. . .

ALEXANDRA GODFREY blogs for the New England Journal of Medicine. I work with Godfrey on her short fiction and narrative nonfiction, including a profile of the doctor who helped save her son’s life, “Mending Broken Hearts.” Read more. . .

In addition, I work with scores of aspiring writers in their apprenticeship to this wonderful literary art and craft.