Category: Writing Tips

The Editing Process

Many authors aren’t sure what should happen after they’ve written their first draft. This post will walk you through the editing process as it would occur at a publishing house, which is how I think it should occur even if you are self-publishing. I see editing as an in-depth conversation between author and editor. It is a conversation that must occur out of respect for the reader.

My ideal book publishing process is as follows:

  • Writing
  • Revising
  • Manuscript critique
  • Developmental edit
  • Line editing
  • Copy editing
  • Manuscript clean up
  • Interior book formatting (aka typesetting for those of us from the old school)
  • Proofreading
  • Proofreading corrections
  • Final review
  • Print
  • Celebrate

Many authors tell me they only need copy editing and don’t want to engage in the developmental editing and line editing process. Often the reasons behind this reluctance are time, money, and ego. My responses to these excuses are brief.

  • Time: Excellent writing takes time.
  • Money: One bad review will cost you more in sales than you would have spent on editing.
  • Ego: The right editor will fall in love with your manuscript and your purpose. A developmental editor is your assistant, not your boss. (A copy editor is your boss, though. It’s okay to hate them a little.)

The following sections describe each step in which the editor is involved. My turnaround time for each stage is ten business days for manuscripts under 90,000 words. For manuscripts over 90,000 words, I’ll review your book and provide you with an individually tailored timeline. Except for the manuscript critique, every step is performed using Word’s Track Changes and Comments features.

Manuscript critique

In the offices of America’s Editor, the manuscript critique can work one of two ways:

  • I read the manuscript and provide you with notes on your overall plot, diction, audience, marketability, organization, structure, premise, pacing, characters, and dialogue.
  • My assistants and I do all of the above on our own. We meet to discuss your manuscript (chair slamming and name calling ensues). We then provide you with our combined notes.

Developmental editing

In a perfect world, authors will make time for a manuscript critique and a developmental edit. In my experience, however, few independent authors do both. It’s possible to skip the manuscript critique, but that usually means the developmental edit will include redundant notes and questions that could have been easily addressed during the manuscript critique. The manuscript critique yields a sharper developmental edit. Developmental editing focuses on storytelling and your book’s purpose. This stage can begin as soon as you have a book idea. It’s a collaborative step where you and I discuss and research your manuscript at length. My suggestions at this stage are specific to your voice and intention. It’s not only about what you’re doing with this book now but also about what you want to do in your writing career and what you want the book to accomplish. This is where I really get to know you. Scary, right?

Line editing

During line editing, we fine tune your voice, sentence structure, and word choice. You’ll receive notes line by line, paragraph by paragraph. If we’ve done all of the ideal steps, the manuscript will begin to shine during this stage in a way you never thought possible. (This even goes for those writers who have fifteen books under their belts and feel they don’t need anything but copy editing.) I’ve heard of editors combining developmental editing and line editing into one step. Do I recommend it? No. If you’re at the stage in writing where you feel you can’t look at the manuscript anymore, combining these steps will make it feel much, much worse.

Copy editing

Copy editing is where punctuation, grammar, and consistency are finally addressed. If you’ve done all of the other steps, copy editing will be painless. In fact, it’ll be fun because we get to take a look at your shining manuscript and perfect it. You know the feeling you get when you look at your baby sleeping in an adorable pose? That should be the feeling you get when reviewing copy editing changes.

Manuscript clean up

Manuscript clean up is a step I perform for many publishing houses. After the author reviews the copy editing changes, I take a quick look to ensure there are no remaining comments or changes to be addressed. I also perform this step for independent authors who choose to work with my interior book designers.


Authors often think proofreading is the same as copy editing. It’s not. Proofreading comes after the book has been formatted. The proofreader reviews the proof pages. In addition to reading the manuscript and checking for grammar, punctuation, and consistency, the proofreader checks for missing text, incorrect formatting, stacks, widows, and orphans, erroneous running heads or page numbers, and more. There is a technical aspect to proofreading that requires a different mindset from all other stages of editing. Performing a proofread without first doing a copy edit will result in expensive revisions. A single comma can shift the text dramatically, sometimes even altering the page count. The book formatter has painstakingly styled your book, and every small change requires several minutes of work. The book formatter will charge you accordingly.

A sampling of the Bard of Avon

Three steps to immortality:
  1. Skip the clichés.
  2. Use your own words.
  3. Live forever.

Find time to write

Use those few minutes before a meeting starts, standing in line at the supermarket, and waiting in the doctor’s office. Instead of watching TV or checking social media, write. All those micro writing sessions add up to pages, which add up to chapters.

How not to start your story

There are many overused story openings that you should avoid at all costs. Several literary agents, acquisition editors, and publishers have written about this, but here is a short list of the most annoying and disliked ways to start a story.

Do not open your story with:

  • a dream;
  • an alarm clock buzzing;
  • a character jumping out of bed, running late;
  • the first day of anything new (e.g., school, job);
  • a wake up of any kind; or
  • the protagonist in bed for any reason.

Get your characters out of bed already.

Keep personality in your nonfiction

Nonfiction authors have the benefit of being real-life narrators, yet they often remove their own personality from their books.

When writing a nonfiction book, use your own voice. It should be a voice of authority about the subject and a voice that matches the tone of the book.

How to start your story

The beginning of your story is meant to be an induction to the rest of the story as a whole. Your job is to hook your readers from page one and give us a taste of the rest of the book.

I recently performed a developmental edit on a well-written thriller. In the opening scene, the protagonist is hiding in a closet and listening to the sounds beyond the closet doors. She is eventually discovered and makes a break for the exit. Throughout the book, the protagonist does a lot of traveling and encounters many dangerous people, but the book starts with her stuck in a closet.

How could the author make the first few paragraphs representative of the entire book?

My suggestion was for the author to show us the survivalist we come to know in the book. She is resourceful and lively, cautious but daring. By showing us a character who searches the closet for weapons, devises a plan or two, and moves as stealthily as possible, we’re able to see the gumption and intellect that will aid the character throughout the book.

Now when she makes a break for the exit, we are cheering her on and hoping she escapes. We already like her because we already know her.

The one time management tip you won’t follow but should

You’ve made a new year’s resolution to get that book done. So, let’s do it.

Every Monday for the next two months I’ll offer a time management tip that will change your behavior and the behavior of those around you, resulting in more time to write. Be warned: these are going to be succinct, useful, and harsh recommendations.

Time management tip #1: Say “no” a lot.

Once you start a new project, excuses will keep you from working on your new venture. By “excuses” I mean people you think you must please and events in which you think you must participate. Take this week to say “no” and realize how many time suckers are lurking in your life.

Why we say “yes”

We often say “yes” to events because we feel like we might miss out on something. Keep saying “yes” and you’ll miss out on writing a great book. We also say “yes” because we don’t want to disappoint anyone, no matter how many times they’ve disappointed us. Instead of letting other people down, you let yourself down. Over and over again. Stop it.

What happens when you say “no”

People might be miffed, but you’ll have written a killer scene, so what do you care? Those who care about you will admire your dedication. Those who get mad and stay mad were never planning to read your book anyway.

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