Editors are Like Snowflakes – Each One is Unique
Fact: Editors do not come from an editor factory. Fact: We don’t even all graduate from the same program or attend the same college or possess a fancy “I am qualified to be an editor” certificate (although I would really like one of those). Instead, editors come from a variety of different backgrounds and with many different experiences in the publishing field.
Because of this—and because we’re all individual humans with our own styles!—every editorial process is different from editor to editor. We talk about Holly’s process here, and now I’m going to take you inside my Editing Bat Cave (a.k.a my mind) and tell you what my editorial process looks like.
Step 1: Read the manuscript
You probably knew this step came first; it’s hard/impossible to edit a manuscript without reading it. However, editors have many different approaches during their first read-through. I read the manuscript digitally, either on my computer or on my e-reader, and I take notes about big stuff that I want to fix. I’ll look for things like pacing problems, confusing plot points, characters that either need more or less page time, and more. I try not to focus on sentence-level changes at this stage; it’s best to get the bones of the manuscript straightened out first so you’re not line-editing scenes that will be left on the cutting room floor.
Step 2: Write the editorial letter
After I’ve read the manuscript, I’ll write up an editorial letter to share with the author. I structure my editorial letter around the main elements of the book that need work, and I break each section into digestible chunks. For example, my sections could be “voice,” “character, “plot,” “setting,” and “pacing.” Under “character,” I’ll break the section down by each character that I want to discuss (“Jenna,” “Jim,” and “Patrick”), with specific notes about what I want to change and why. I also make sure to include an opening paragraph about what’s really working in the manuscript; you don’t want the author going in and fixing what’s not broken!
Step 3: Discuss the edits and set a new draft deadline
After this letter is sent, I often get on the phone with the author to talk through any questions or concerns they may have before they start editing. Some authors prefer to work over email, so we’ll go back and forth making sure that we’re on the same page. I’ll also ask the author to set a deadline for when they expect to turn the new draft back in to me. Deadlines are key for helping me create an editing schedule (so much to edit, so little time!), and most authors prefer to have a deadline to keep them on track.
Step 4: Read and edit the new draft
When the new draft of the manuscript comes in, I read it again, but I wear a different editorial hat at this stage. This time, I read the manuscript on my computer and mark scenes and lines that aren’t working for me. I love to line edit, so I’ll probably mention sentence-level changes during this pass even though it’s still possible that scenes will get cut and move around. During this read through, I’m focusing mostly on the changes the author has made and seeing if they work. Then, I send this draft back to the author with lots of comments and queries in Track Changes for their review, and we discuss as needed and set another deadline for the next draft.
Step 5: Repeat Step 4 as needed
This intermediate editing stage where I’m looking closely at big elements like plot, voice, and character, can last for two drafts or ten. When an author has spent such a long time developing these elements on their own, it can be difficult to untangle these elements reshape their book from the ground up. And that’s OK! I can guarantee you that most of your favorite books, if not all of them, have been rewritten and revised and edited more times than you can count. As long as the manuscript is getting better with each draft, you’re making progress.
Step 6: Line-editing
This is by far my favorite part of the editing process (some editors hate to line edit, which just goes to show you how different we are!). In this stage, I go through the manuscript and make notes and ask questions on various sentences in the book. And by “various,” I mean “a lot.” I want each sentence to feel natural and realistic, and many of my notes will look like, “Can this be reworded to flow better?” or “Can you shift from telling to showing in this sentence?” I love finessing these seemingly small elements with the author. I think of the line edit as that second layer of clear polish you put on after you paint your nails. You want to make your manuscript as shiny as possible, and line editing is the time to do that!
Think that’s the end of the process? Far from it! Once the production department gets their paws on the manuscript, it goes through copyediting, typesetting, proofreading, and lots more “-ing” verbs.
What’s your favorite part of the revision process as a writer? Tell us in the comments below!