What Does the Editing Process Look Like?
Several of you have been curious about editing inside a publishing house. Every publisher has their own process, and they may call each step by a different name. It’s basically three steps, and they’re usually done sequentially, although there is overlap and not every publisher does all three of these steps. The edits might be done by one person, or two or three people.
1. The Macro Edit (developmental, substantive, or content edit; often 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.
At some houses, this is a long and involved process, where at other publishers, 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.
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 aren’t left to decipher multiple sets of notes at one time!
Hope that doesn’t make things even more confusing!
Let me know if you have more questions about editing.
How long does the process usually take, if it is to be done well? Say, for a 76,000 word manuscript?
[…] What Does the Editing Process Look Like? by Rachelle Gardner […]
[…] next step is what Rachel Gardner refers to as the “macro” or “developmental” edit. I am putting the book out to 5-15 test readers, each of whom I’m asking to complete a […]
[…] next step is what Rachel Gardner refers to as the “macro” or “developmental” edit. I am putting the book out to 5-15 test readers, each of whom I’m asking to complete a […]
Just a brief comment on those who feel that they cannot afford pay for certain
things. I was bus mgr for a weekly paper
dealing most with advertisers. y would not bel stupidy of bus people sometimes
How does this relate to y authors or
editors just this. MOney is the last
think y sh be worry about. Budget
drop something y morning coffee shop
save, plan and then hire best y can
IT WILL PAY OFF WITH PERFECTION
and give y somehing y will be proud of!
I’m sometimes brought in independently by an author and agent to help merge the feedback the agent’s received from multiple acquisitions editors.
We three work together to translate, “Doesn’t quite grab me and for these reasons,” into, “I love this book!”
Thank you for clearing that up for me. I hope to someday be a freelance editor on top of being a writer. I’m going back to college to get an English degree for it.
[…] What Does the Editing Process Look Like? | Rachelle Gardner Posted by admin at 7:00 pm Tagged with: ebook editor, ebooks, editing ebooks, self publishing […]
[…] Once a manuscript is acquired, editing begins (or continues). Agent Rachelle Gardner explains the process. […]
[…] 9) What does the editing process look like? […]
This was really interesting. I knew the different types of editing in general, but seeing the usual process does make it easier to understand. Seeing the list gives me a better idea of how to pre-edit my manuscripts. Thank you.
Interesting. I would love to spend a day at a publishing house and get a behind the scenes look at things. I think line editing was my favorite part of revising my novel, making sure everything was exactly right. It was a definite sense of accomplishment when that was done.
[…] Rachelle Gardner on What Does the Editing Process Look Like? […]
[…] Rachelle Gardner on what the editing process looks like: “Every publisher has their own process, and they may call each step by a different name. It’s basically three steps, and they’re usually done sequentially, although there is overlap and not every publisher does all three of these steps. The edits might be done by one person, or two or three people.” […]
In I, Judas by Taylor Caldwell , I read this on a certain page: “He smilled mirthlessly.” It struck me as a little odd, but not a big deal. Then, about 20 pages later was the same exact phrase. Then, two paragraphs later and on the same page there it was again: “He smiled mirthlessly.”
Would you consider this an editing failure? And if so, of the Line Edit or Copy Edit type?
I am an avid fan of Taylor Caldwell. I think I’ve read everything she ever wrote, at least once. I have no difficulty closing my eyes and imagining someone smiling without mirth. There exists a plethora of types of smiles–happy, sad, diabolical, and so forth. Look at the entirety of her work. If seeing “he smiled mirthlessly” truly bugs you, by all means just read something else.
What would it take to become a free-lance editor? Is that something I could do from home? I find myself editing a lot of other peoples’ papers, resumes, professional brag sheets when applying for residencies, etc. I am already a free-lance writer for our military newspaper here in Okinawa, and am also still working on 3 separate novels myself, but I can’t bring myself to finish them to publish, but in the meantime, could I apply to your company as a free-lance editor?
Melissa, I have found information on becoming a copy editor quite confounding to this point. I’ve done a few informational interviews locally and received conflicting messages. The same is true with websites I have reviewed. Yes, you should get a degree. No, you really don’t need one. Yes, get one if it will give you confidence. No, you can just start telling people you are an editor, and Wah-Lah, you’re an editor!
Then there was the acquisition editor who told me that no publisher will “even look at” me for freelance work if I haven’t apprenticed in a New York, Chicago, or Philadelphian house. Really? I have to relocate to one of those cities? Not even if I do excellently on their copyediting test?
No way am I going to get an advanced degree if A) I don’t need one; and B) I won’t be able to get enough work after graduation to pay my student loans!
The one thing that hit me between the eyes about this post is where you stated, “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.” That’s HUGE. It’s a great reminder the importance of turning in a very clean, previously-edited manuscript before the publishing house very sees it.
[…] Gardner (@RachelleGardner) pulls back the publishing house curtain to answer the question What Does the Editing Process Look Like? Nothing really surprising here but great info for those who haven’t had the privilege […]
Another great post. I’ve read a bunch of articles dealing with how to hook an agent or publisher. Every single one of them stresses that your book should be darn near ready for the printer before you submit it. I take that to mean that the MS should be professionally edited. At the submission stage–no agent or publisher yet–that means hiring a freelancer. My POD publisher BookLocker.com required that I have my MS before they sent it to the printer. The first editor was okay, but his quality was not up to my expectations. The second editor I took on really didn’t get it. For instance: Regarding a bit of dialogue from a twelve year old boy in 1954, she suggested that I visit a busy shopping mall and listen to children and pay attention to what they were saying and how they said it. Okay. Whatever for? Then I contracted with a Houston firm and was assigned an editor who knew just what I was trying to say. When she went out on her own I remained her client. The way we have it set up now is I submit three or four chapters and she edits them, then three more and so on. The reason for this is that if you submit the completed MS the reading and financial requirements can be overwhelming. At the end she will perform a final overall edit at no extra charge looking for missed typos, grammer mistakes, and consistency.
Choosing a freelance editor is a lot like finding a mate. You just can’t speed date it.
One thing I do before submitting to my editor is print it out before doing a final self-edit. Somehow the computer screen is more forgiving of your mistakes than the hard copy.
Most good freelance editors will do a free edit on a few pages of your MS and you can see if she is the right editor for your work.
Bottom-line, a professionally edited MS has a much better chance of being read by an agent or publisher, considering the vast majority of the stuff they receive has not been professionally edited.
Your comments are very interesting. I too am now working with a POD arrangement, with Friesen Press. They offer an amazing package but it does not include editing and like many others, I do not have the funds to employ a freelance editor for the whole ms. Not that I particularly want too, as I have had the odd chapter critiqued and edited–just to give me some indication of my credibility as a writer. Some results infuriated me (naturally) and some were glowing.
After I posted some excerpts from two of my mss on my website I received a number of enquiries as to where the books could be purchased. This prompted me to blow some ten year old dust from one of them and start editing. It is the story of a child evacuee in the UK during WW2, recounted in the child’s voice – so I can relate to your own experience regarding your 1954 12-year old. One of the ‘glowing’ critiques insisted that I maintain the child’s voice throughout, whereas an ‘infuriating’ one insisted I couldn’t begin a [child’s] sentence with ‘and’ or ‘so’ or ‘but’.
But back to the editing. And here are a few tips for anyone who is attempting to cut down their word count.
First, I went through the whole ms with a search for ‘that’ and ‘which’. Tedious I know, but well worth it. Not only did I correct the use of both, but I nuked 90% of them. Secondly, I went through and deleted most of the adverbs. Those two functions rid me of about 2,000 words. Another run through for weasel words netted about another 1,000.
I am now on my 12th edit.
And for fellow bloggers who mentioned reading to oneself. Oh yes. I read out loud sentences/paragraphs (luckily I live alone), not only to get the words right, but for the rhythm. My motto is 30% content, 30% grammar and 30% rhythm. The remaining 1% I chalk up to poetic [author’s] licence.
I know what you mean Pat. Allegedly when Jack London was attending the University of California at Berkeley (I believe he lasted one or two semesters) he turned in a short story based on his experience in Alaska–you know, like: CALL OF THE WILD–the professor told him that nobody acted or talked like London had described. Whereupon, so the story goes, Jack London stood up and said, words to the effect, “If that is your opinion then you have absolutely nothing to teach me.” He left the university, never to return.
The moral of this is, you must be true to your craft, yourself, and above all to your readers. The best compliment I’ve ever received was something like, “I don’t usually read novels; I don’t have time. But I loved yours.”
Have a great weekend.
Thank you for the story of Jack London’s experience. And for your own.
One of the nicest comments I received was from the sorely missed Theodore Rees Cheney, author of one of my bibles, “Getting the Words Right.” Years ago, I sent a couple of chapters along with an SASE. It was returned with the word “Author” after my name on the envelope. Inside he had written a note in his trademark turquoise ink.
“You don’t need my help, Cedric brought a tear into this old eye.”
It was he who insisted I didn’t abandon the child’s voice.
Enjoy your weekend too!
Oops! I neglected to edit my previous post.
[…] Today I read a blog article by Rachelle Gardner, a literary agent. Quickly and concisely she defined the three basic types of editing processes out there. You can (and should) read it HERE. […]
Your description of the editing process makes sense. The editing becomes progressively more detailed – why copy-edit portions of a book that are in danger of being removed in a developmental review?
I have been approached by a newly “certified” editor through Linked-In who is offering an inexpensive ($1/page) copy-edit level review to:
“get some real, practical experience and start building a resume of published works for credibility.”
I believe I should begin with the developmental review as you suggest here. My book is a mystery/crime drama. Are the developmental editors specialist in various genres? Can you share your thoughts on this please?
Great post Rachelle. I enjoy learning what goes on behind the scene as well. I also really enjoyed the comments this post created. Good info all around!
The one thing I know is that I’m a writer not an editor, and I look forward to the editing process….I think!
If an editor asks for a macro-edit (revision) does that mean they will offer you a contract or is this merely a request for a revision like an agent would give?
Thanks so much
I just wanted to thank you, Rachelle, for the valuable insights you provide to writers. I often send authors, both published and unpublished, to your site, knowing they will not only learn important things about the industry but will also find a sense of community in what can be a very isolated business. When they see that others have the same questions, the same struggles, the same insecurities, it can help limit a lot of the self questioning that stands in their way. Editing, in particular, is a mystery to many. Knowing the various stages and what to expect from each–even if slightly different from publishing house to publishing house–takes some of the anxiety away. Thank you for all you do for the publishing community.
As a freelance editor and author, I agree with Wendy.
How does one get on the freelancer list at a publishing house?
When I read the headline of today’s post, I wanted to search the web for a photo of a sleep-deprived woman tearing her hair out and screaming, “Leave me alone. I’m editing.” That’s sort of what the editing process looks like at my house when I’m working on my own revisions.
When I’m editing for somebody else, it sometimes looks the same – if the writing is bad. If the writing’s good, it looks more like a contented woman curled up with a good book and a red pen behind her right ear.
Now that I’ve had fun with the headline, I want to thank you, Rachelle, for this post. It’s nice to have such a concise description of the various phases. I’m going to print this out and post it on the bulletin board in my home office.
I have a question, Rachelle. I’m an editor and would love to get some freelance gigs editing for publishers. Is there a particular process for inquiring about this (and if so, is there someone in particular at each publishing house who would be in charge of this?) or does it completely vary per house and kind of depend on “who you know”?
Thanks for this informative post!
Thank you so much for the behind the scene look at what actually takes place for editing. As a new author, I appreciate seeing ahead of time what steps will be taken to help my book be the best it can be. It definitely takes more than one pair of eyes to catch the little things that make a big difference.
Holy cow! That’s a lot of cooks in the kitchen – but I suppose they make a mean stew once the job is done.
Rachelle, I’m curious – in the Macro Edit stage, is there ever a time when more than one editor reviews the work? Or is this strictly a one person job? I’m wondering what the protocol would be if opinions on plot/POV vary in the case of multiple editors???
Hi Kathryn – You’ve asked my question! What does happne if various editors don’t agree on direction?!?
Thanks for clarifying, Rachelle. It’s nice to know the process (for future reference, I hope).
I’m amazed that the proofreading part is last. It must take a trained eye to look at everything else without being sidetracked by typos and misspellings. I thought there’d be an initial and final proofreading, but I guess that would be redundant.
Proofreading is the last stage of the process, and it takes place after the book has been typeset. The proofreader reads the pages of the book against the copyedited manuscript to make sure that all the changes made during the editing process have made it into the final text correctly. Although the author and editor also review the typeset pages at this same time, a professional proofreader is the one who compares the two stages to make certain nothing has slipped through the cracks. Having that fresh set of eyes and attention to detail is invaluable because by this stage the author and editor has read the manuscript so many times that it becomes more difficult to “see” what is and isn’t there on paper. The “proofreading” you’re referring to, Diane, is actually attended to throughout all stages of the editing process. Typos, grammatical issues, and misspellings should be corrected to the best of one’s ability, right from the start. The cleaner your manuscript, the more likely your story will shine through.
…and I should have proofread my reply more clearly. Sigh.
That makes sense. The publishing process is certainly interesting!
I’ve found that macro editing and proofreading (clearing up typos) require two different parts of my brain as an editor–the creative side and the technical side. I can’t do both in the same sitting.
I would not be able to both at the same time either.
Getting to perfection – another kind of editing: we had a rare interview with Anne Tyler in Britain recently (Accidental Tourist etc). She dictates her manuscript on to tape and plays it back to understand its rhythm, voice and so on. Then she adjusts. That’s time-consuming but very smart. I tried it with a chapter of mine ….. and hated it. What I disliked was the nasal, self-important idiot talking to me.
Hi John – Here’s another version of that same method. If you listen to audio books (and I do, a lot) you can try reading your MS to yourself in your head instead of aloud. I’ve done that with my MSs and it helps me to find better wording, clearer descriptions, and plot issues. I wouldn’t want to hear myself drone on either! 🙂
Interesting. I also tried to use a machine voice. In Dragon Dictate you can get a read-back option, but she or he sounds like a robot and there is no rise and fall as with a normal human voice.
Great article Rachelle, thanks! A friend of mine has been involved in the revision process with an agent she contacted for representation. There has never been a written contract, and yet suggestions/revisions continue to be sent back and forth. Is this usual?
I would like a response to Lori Potter’s question because I, too, am one SEND button away from querying. I know in the past you have told us to make our work as perfect as possible, but how far do you expect us to go?
Dixie and Lori, I’m another aspiring author without a lot of monetary resources, but in today’s highly competitive market I can’t imagine submitting a manuscript that is less than my best work. The writing part is creative, but publication is a business and paying for professional editing might be considered a wise investment if we want to make a good first impression.
THanks so much for chiming in, ladies. Of course I am very interested in making sure my writing is the absolute best it can be, and I am working with someone right now who is graciously helping me, but although she has an English Lit degree, she’s not an “official” editor in the sense I’m reading in these blogs. So my point is this: when I review the costs of formal freelance editing for content development, line editing, etc. and I see the agent recommendations to attend writing conferences to gather feedback and learn everything we can about the industry, we are now talking about hundreds and hundreds of dollars to invest in something we are not guaranteed will ever be accepted. It kind of takes the wind out of my sails when I consider this. That’s basically what I was getting at…
I’m one of those people who really appreciate good editing. It pulls me out of the story when I see something incorrect. I sent my story through one critique group, then another, then set it aside and edited it again a month later!
Nice and concise. Thanks.
I’m working dutifully on the 2nd draft of my book and it’s way too long for a first novel or so I’ve been told (over 100,000 words). I was wondering if I should try to pare it down (more) myself before submitting or do editors expect a bit of excess? I
Lawrence – the closer you get your ms. pared down and polished before sending it to an editor, the more that editor will be able to help you over those last hurdles.
Also, many editors charge by the word, so if you can get the word count down, you will save yourself money.
Others charge by the hour: again, though, it will take them less time to edit a shorter manuscript.
Rachelle had a good post a few weeks ago about how to cut word count.
Thanks for taking the time out to reply, JJ and Iola!!
I did read the post about cutting word count and I have it saved for when I start the 3rd draft. (I may have to channel Michael Myers for all the slashing that needs to be done!)
Unfortunately, I don’t have the budget to hire an indy editor.
My writer’s group helps with the copy edit but they’re getting as close to the project as I am and can’t see where I can stand to cut content. (They are such beautiful people.)
Rachelle, thanks for explaining the different kinds of edits publishing houses do. These have always confused me, now I understand better what each type of edit focuses on.
So, do you have recommendations for authors to make this process easier for them and the publishing house?
Are first-time author hopefuls expected to hire freelance editors to develop and perfect our book proposals and content prior to sending everything along to potential agents? I noticed the prices for these independent editors are often considerably high, and I’m a little concerned that I don’t have the resources available to hire my own editor at this time. What do you suggest?
I have the same question. Thanks for asking it.
I thought for sure there was going to be a picture of an editor or author pulling her hair out…nice to be wrong! 😉 That would be bad to have so many bald writers, and personally, I’m rather attached to my hair.
But seriously speaking, I enjoy learning all these behind the scenes and what each person does to help a book become better. Thanks for the fantastic post, Rachelle.
I’ve been a freelance copy editor and proofreader for about 20 years and this year I’ve been on the other side–having others edit the book I’m writing. Every one of those professionals, whether in house or freelance, is valuable. Every fresh pair of eyes is another chance to catch something embarrassing before the book goes to the printer. I bless them all!
I get everything you’re saying. I know that I will have to hire a freelance editor before I submit my queries.
Still, something inside of me worries that every single word I write will be picked part.
I don’t want to get to the point where I stop the flow of creativity because I’m worried about perfection.
In some way this makes me cringe.
Do I have to be near perfect in order to have any type of chance of being published?
I hope not.
Great post, Rachelle (as always)!
I have worked both sides of the “transom,” as an author and as a freelance editor. I’ve also judged many contests for self-published books. Many times I have sadly set a book aside in the pile of “noncontenders” as I think, “If only the author had taken the time (and money) to hire an editor before he or she spent all that money to publish the book.” #pound-wise/penny-foolish
I frequently speak at writers’ workshops about how to work with a freelancer vs. how to work with an in-house editor. (For example, they both know their stuff, but the “power positions” are different.) Have you ever blogged about that for your followers?
Many writers do what you have done.
Phewff! Oh wait…is that “good writers” or “village idiots with crayons” ? 😉
We all want our work to be the best it can be. I guess the trick is knowing when to stop, eh? I’m still figuring that one out. 🙂
All are important, but I’m really focused on macro editing my WIP right now. Can you recommend other useful links?
And thanks for all your work. Love your blog. You win. 🙂
I’m not sure if I should confess that I’ve gone through my MS 170 times for editing. Flow, spelling, POV, the *right* word/words,typos, tight writing, emotional punch where major(yeah yeah) plot crescendos occur, historical and technical accuracy and even to make sure the same money word wasn’t used within too many pages.
Is that good? Or hugely pathetic beyond all reason and common sense? Because the whole common sense thing is debatable.
Put down the manuscript and step away from the spell-check. Perhaps the hardest thing to do is get away from our MS long enough for it to cool down, but we need to.
I checked Angel Blood several times right after I wrote it, but it wasn’t until I let it sit a year that I did the best editing. There was so much that I needed to change! Only time away from the MS gave me the insight to make the changes though.
P.S> Your MS is very polished. I hope to see it in stores near me.
Aw thanks for the encouragement, PJ.
You’re right, I do need to back away and let it breathe. I sent it to a new beta reader today, I hope she likes it. I should read some new stuff to shake up the cranial matter…maybe…hmmm…
I hired a free-lance editor for a novel I thought was clean and ready to self-publish. I have been amazed, impressed, and humbled by her insights to make my book the best it can be.
What I learned
– what I know how to do in a rewrite/edit and what an expert can add are two very different skill sets.
– Maybe other writers possess these skills. For me, I hope never again to underestimate the value of a skilled editor
Natalie I know what you mean, when we see a messy manuscript it just grates, but then again there are some stories that hit you in the heart immediately and you know the author has potential. Or is that just me?
Another great behind the scenes post – thanks Rachelle. By the way I loved your quick video for new authors – you look so young and vivacious 😉
Thanks for this concise post. Regarding this bit: “…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.”
Wouldn’t it be hard to recognize an author’s potential if their manuscript isn’t tight and needs a lot of editing—like all that muck would get in the way of telling the story?
I guess the rule-follower inside me wonders how manuscripts like that make it through. The graphic designer in me knows that presentation is everything; but, as I’m learning from you: Story is king.:)
One of the major skills needed to be a good editor or agent is recognizing potential, even if it’s well-obscured.
Well-obscured? An interesting description that’s not quite analogous to the ubiquitous phrase “you show potential.”
Thanks Rachelle, I fonud tihs vrey helfpul. I usaully try to eidt well fisrt but I smoetmies miss thnigs.
The adage “Love your critic” really applies here. Perhaps it should be change to “Love your critique?” 😉
Godo mroning Peejay. Why am I srupised to sea yu doo thsi? Olny becuz I waz gion two.
Allright, guise. Its hard too reed when u due this.
Ahhhh, pray thee good Mister King, upon this page, we see that thou retained and promoted the bait, didst thou not?
Absosmurfly. Retaining bait is one thing I do quite well.
I’m at the line editing stage right now & there are a few notes about redundancy & moving things around, most all of which I’ve addressed. There is one small section, however, that the editor wants moved but it simply won’t work. I tried every which way, but the content, as is, comes at an imperative time in the story, at least I think so. It’s the one spot, so far, I can’t accept the suggestion. Does this happen often or am I just being obstinate? I haven’t turned my track changes back in yet, and I’m worried about being perceived as a diva, when all I’m trying to do is preserve the integrity of that part of the story. My publisher seems extraordinarily willing to work things through, knowing full well I won’t I accept everything. I just hate to be difficult.
I think any good editor (ahem, like myself) will accept that the author has the last word. The editor is there to help you create the best book you can, not to take over!
Editors will vary in the amount they want authors to change, authors will vary in the amount they are willing to change. It is a collaborative process but the author has ownership and responsibility for the final product.
If you don’t want to change something, just explain why.
Nancy, I think if you’re not arguing over every single word, comma and passage, and if you can articulate your reason why the change won’t work, then you’re being neither a diva nor ‘difficult.’
Nancy, the other two responders to your comment are right. Stop worrying, just explain your position. You and the editor will figure out how to solve whatever the problem was. Or maybe you’ll convince her there wasn’t any problem at all.
Interesting – three stages of editing, and none of them are actually ‘proofreading’, which (I guess) is that final check to ensure that no typos or glitches have been introduced by the line edit or copy edit.
Right, editing and proofreading are separate functions.
Thank you for the behind the scenes peek – I love learning about all the facets of publishing.
Kind of begs the question – when a publisher switches editors on an established author, is there a discernable difference in the author’s ‘voice’?
Hopefully not – but it’s the author’s job to make sure they keep their voice.