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:
- 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 corrections
- Final review
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.
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.
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?
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 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.