The Editorial Process
Several of you have been curious about the editorial process inside a publishing house.
What is the role of freelance editors in the publishing process these days? I’ve noticed cases recently in which published authors had in-house editors AND freelance editors working on their novels. Do publishing houses hire these freelancers, or do the authors do it? Why do publishers or authors hire a freelancer when a novel already has an in-house editor?
Then Katy expounded:
If a contracted novel has, say, three editors working on it, do they all do the whole book separately and simultaneously? And then does the author have to compare notes from all three of them in order to figure out the fixes?
Every publisher has their own process, and they may call each step of the process by a different name. It’s basically three steps, and they are done sequentially, not all at once. They might be done by one person, or two or three people. At some houses, these steps will be combined.
1. The Macro Edit (developmental, substantive, or content edit; sometimes simply called revisions.) This is where the editor gives big-picture notes on plot, characterization, scene crafting, POV’s, and all the other elements of your story. They don’t actually edit your work, they simply give you a set of notes and send you back to work on your revisions.
2. The Line Edit. The editor works directly in your manuscript document, using Track Changes and Comments in Word. She suggests word changes, looks for discrepancies, asks questions about things that don’t make sense, highlights inconsistencies or POV breaks, and looks for anything else that needs to be smoothed out. The line editor is responsible for seeing that the manuscript conforms to house style guidelines.
3. The Copy Edit. This is the most detailed editing, dealing with typos, spelling, punctuation, word use, etc. Sometimes fact checking is done; permissions are checked; footnotes are verified.
Where do freelancers fit into the picture? At many houses, the editors are swamped and don’t have enough time to edit all their books, so the publishing house has a list of freelancers they regularly use. For authors with multiple books, they do their best to give the author the same editor each time, so good working relationships are built. Freelancers may be used at all three of the above stages in the editorial process.
If a freelancer is doing the macro edit, she will usually confer with the in-house editor prior to the edit. The in-house editor will convey her general thoughts and impressions to the freelancer so they can be incorporated. When the author receives the notes, they’ll all be together in one place. Authors are never left to decipher multiple sets of notes at one time!
In the past, I’ve been involved in every stage of this process, from every angle. At various times I’ve been the in-house editor, the freelancer, and yes, even the author dealing with those editors.
As a freelancer I was Camy Tang’s macro editor on her first three books for Zondervan. The in-house editor is Sue Brower. Camy would turn in the manuscript, and Sue and I would read it at the same time. Then we’d have a phone conversation and discuss it. Sue would tell me all her impressions and we would discuss various aspects of the book, identifying problem areas and sometimes brainstorming solutions. Then she’d leave it to me to do the complete edit. After the macro edit was finished, Camy worked with other editors for the line edit and copy edit stage, one after the other.
At some houses, this is a long and involved process, where at others, it hardly takes any time at all. Some publishers place a high priority on editorial excellence and put a lot of time and money into it, while others basically print what the author wrote. From this, you can extrapolate the idea that some publishers are more open to signing contracts with authors who show great potential but need some help getting there; and others need the author to be immediately publishable.
Hope that doesn’t make things even more confusing! Let me know if you have more questions about editing.
Rachelle Gardner is a Christian literary agent affiliated with WordServe Literary Group in Colorado.