Your book has been acquired—hooray! Next comes weeks and weeks of shaping and editing the novel as you work with your editor. No matter what the manuscript looks like at the time of acquisition, this process is essential to the book publishing cycle (and it’s the reason I have a job!). Check out the answers to frequently asked questions about editing below.
1. How long does the editing process take? This varies from book to book. On average, I try to schedule a minimum six months of editing time, which includes my macro edits as well as copyedits and proofreads.
2. What is a macro edit? A macro or developmental edit is a “big picture” edit. This is where we look at the overall structure of the book, the narrative arc, the character development, and the plot. This portion of the editing process takes the longest because it requires rewriting and thinking about the manuscript in new ways. Once those higher-level issues are resolved, we move to copyediting (paragraph and sentence level editing) and proofreading (grammar, spelling, and punctuation).
3. What kinds of edits do you do? I primarily focus on the macro edit. By the time I’ve acquired a manuscript, I’ve already read the text at least once or twice, and I know what the big issues are. So when I begin my edit read, I look for places to resolve those issues while also correcting some grammar and wording along the way. My stage of the process mostly focuses on character and plot, but I can’t ignore a typo!
4. How do you make the edits? Some people still edit pen to paper (ah! the trees!), but I prefer to use Track Changes in Microsoft Word. It’s quick, intuitive, and easy for the author to see what I’ve suggested. If you aren’t familiar with Track Changes, I highly recommend giving it a try. It’s likely that any editing project you work on will require you to be proficient in the program, and it will save you time and your editor a headache if you learn it now!
5. How does an editor work with the author? After I complete my edits in the manuscript, I put together an edit letter that explains the big changes and some of the little ones I want the author to make. Then, once the author has the marked-up manuscript and my edit letter, we will talk through my suggestions and see which ones might need to be tweaked based on the author’s vision of the book.
6. What kinds of changes do editors make? All kinds! Sometimes we cut the word count and sometimes we ask authors to write another five chapters. We might suggest adding or removing characters, changing the ending of the book, or we might look at word choice and sentence structure variation. This very much depends on the shape the manuscript is in when it arrives. The cleaner and more polished the text, the easier the edits will be. The difference between a first draft and a fifth draft of a story is VERY clear, both in terms of errors and overall storytelling.
7. Do I have to listen to what my editor says? Well, of course I am going to say yes to that. 🙂 Editors are not only knowledgable when it comes to the English language, but also when it comes to what readers want. Our edits reflect a desire to create the best book and the best experience for those readers. (Plus, we want our authors to sell books!) However, if you are an author and you feel strongly that a change is not right for your book, stand up for what you believe. It is your book and your art, and most editors will respect that.
8. What does the author need to do with the edits? After the author and I have agreed on the changes, he or she will then have several weeks to work through the edits. Once those edits are complete, I will review again and see where we need to polish the manuscript further. Generally I go back and forth at least two or three times with an author before the text is considered ready to go into copyediting and proofreading.
9. What happens during the copyediting and proofreading stages? It’s so important to have multiple sets of eyes on a manuscript, so another editor will do the copyediting and/or proofreading. Sometimes this is an editor at the publishing house, and sometimes it is a freelancer we hire. During these stages, the details of the manuscript get sorted out so that all of the text is clean and error-free. Copyeditors will also focus on items like factual accuracy, sentence structure, and repetition, while proofreaders will make sure every semicolon is in its place.
10. Is the editing process ever over? When a manuscript has completed the macro edit, copyedit, and proofreading stages (and all changes have been approved and updated by the author), the editing process is generally at an end. Of course, no book will ever be absolutely perfect in the eyes of each individual grammarian, and every once in a while you’ll find a typo in a printed book. So in a sense, the editing process goes on forever—great news to keep us editors in business!
Have more questions? Post in the comments section below!