You will find almost as many definitions for editing as you will editors. Below are my guidelines for each stage of editing and how I approach them.
(Also called structural or content editing.) This type of review gets to the gut of your story. Best suited for "plotters" (not "pantsers") who have an outline or paragraph(s) describing each chapter's contents. The editor will look for plot flaws, potential lack of cohesiveness, implausible situations or unbelievable reactions from characters--anything that makes the reader think "this could never happen." This round of edits can eliminate potential death-knells in a story.
Each line of your story is analyzed for structure, flow, word choice, and how smoothly it reads. A good editor will help you hone your skills without changing your character's--or your--voice or style. The editor may move some paragraphs around for clarity or continuity.
Grammar, punctuation, spelling. Consistency of character traits, timelines. Copyeditors are grammar gurus. They know the rules, or at least know when to look up the rules, and will make sure your writing is correct. I follow the Chicago Manual of Style and Merriam-Webster.
The final stage of editing to check for misspelled and/or missing words, typos, spacing and formatting. I will not proofread a book that I have edited. If I didn't catch these errors during my edits, I may not see them even with another read.
Whoever does your editing, it should be done in the order listed above. It's foolish to pay for a copyedit and then change half of the story because developmental issues have been found.
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