Editing

Congratulations! You got a book deal! You’ve made it, right?? It’s all downhill from here, right??? Mwahahahaha. Not so, my newbie friend. There are still several rounds of editing between deal and book-on-shelf. Let’s take a brief look at each round, shall we?

Content Edit

The content edit is your first hurdle. You’ll get a three- to ten-page edit letter from your editor anywhere from a month to six months after you’ve agreed to the book deal. The edit letter will tell you all the major plot points your editor wants you to take another look at. This is what I call the “wood-shedding” edit. You’ve taken a chisel and cut out the general shape of the thing. The content edit involves selecting a slightly smaller chisel and shaping the blunt edges into smoother curves.

Your editor may have suggestions for how to fix whatever issues she finds as she’s reading, but generally, she’ll let you decide how to fix it. If you disagree with a point your editor has raised, sleep on it for a few days, then discuss it with your editor. There’s a saying in the industry that your editor is almost always right when she says something needs to be fixed, and almost always wrong about how to fix it. You are the author. It’s your job to come up with a compromise that lets you accomplish what you’re trying to accomplish with the scene but that also addresses your editors concerns.

The content edit generally takes up to two months, but it may depend on your book’s publication timeline.

Line Edit

After your editor accepts your content edited version of your manuscript, she’ll do a round of line edits. Line edits are geared more toward improving phrasing, examining word choice, cleaning up characterization, reducing word count, etc. This part of the edit is what I call the “in the weeds” portion. You’re knee deep in the swamp, pulling the weeds to make room for the lilies and orchids.

Line edits generally take anywhere from one week to one month, depending on how much your editor finds during her edit. My line edit for Trust Me, I’m Lying took a whole month. My line edit for the sequel, Trust Me, I’m Trouble, took a week and a half.

Copyedit

Copyediting is the next stage of the editing process. Your editor will send your line-edited manuscript to a copyeditor, and the real work begins. This is your “fine-toothed comb” edit. Your copyeditor will read through your manuscript several times, looking for grammatical errors, wonky word choices, facts about setting and such that are downright wrong, inconsistencies in your story’s timeline, inconsistencies in characterization, repetition of words and phrases, and so on. Your copyeditor is your best friend, because it’s your copyeditor who keeps you from embarrassing yourself with obvious mistakes.

The copyeditor has about a month to go over your manuscript. You generally get two weeks to read through the whole manuscript again and address every change your copyeditor suggests. My personal opinion is that you should accept 90% of what your copyeditor wants you to change. Only STET (which means “leave as is”) the changes you absolutely cannot agree with. If you disagree with more than 25% of what your copyeditor suggests, talk to your editor about it.

Here’s a sample of what copyedits from Trust Me, I’m Lying looked like.

First Pass Pages Edit

First pass pages (or 1pp) refers to the version of your manuscript that is laid about by the typesetter. It’s created after your changes to the copyedited version of the manuscript have all been accepted and all unusual formatting (italics, bold, indentation) has been noted. It’s the first time your story looks like an actual book! In PDF form anyway.

You’ll get a clean version of the PDF, which you then print out and read through yet again, making note of any things you want changed along the way. This is not the time to make big, sweeping changes to your manuscript. Editors tend to frown on that. This pass is mostly for things that got missed in the copyedit stage. You can make changes to wording and punctuation. You cannot introduce an entirely new character.

I think I had a week to go through first pass pages, maybe two. Note that you can always ask your editor for more time if you need it. But keep in mind that it may affect your book’s release date if you don’t meet the deadlines your editor gives you.

One final note about the first pass pages edit–this is the stage where your publisher may turn your manuscript into an Advanced Reader Copy, which is a paperback book that your publisher’s marketing/publicity department sends out to conferences, influential readers, librarians, and industry reviewers to start creating buzz about your book.

Proofreading

Proofreading is the final editing stage. Your editor will have a staff or freelance proofreader go through your typeset manuscript from end to end to make sure that all grammar, punctuation, and formatting is correct. If there are any issues, the proofreader will note them on a hard copy of your manuscript. Then you’ll be sent the manuscript (either in PDF or hard copy) with the proofreader’s marks on it, so you can make sure no new errors have been introduced and that you don’t see any additional errors the proofreader missed. You cannot make any changes at this stage that are not about correcting typos. If for some reason you do need to make a more major change, contact your editor right away.

Working with an Editor

Relationships with editors vary as much as the people themselves do. Always, always be professional when working with your editor. Even if something upsets you, make sure to address the issue calmly and with well-reasoned arguments supporting your position. Keep in mind that editors are busy, that they have many more authors they’re trying to take care of at the same time as you. Also remember that signing that publishing contract means you’re relinquishing creative discretion over portions of your book. You won’t have much say in cover design, for example.

The best way to maintain a healthy, happy working relationship with your editor is to offer more than you ask for, and to always give your editorial team the benefit of the doubt. At the end of the day, everyone is pulling for you and wants your book to succeed. It’s in their best interest! If your needs are not getting met, and you’re not getting sufficient response from your editor, involve your agent, if you have one. That’s what agents are for.

But generally speaking, editors are brilliant, savvy, compassionate book ninjas, who know the industry backward and forward, and who only have your best interests at heart. Treat them that way, and you’ll have a glowing, successful, and most importantly, ongoing relationship.

2 Responses to Editing

  1. Bird Cramer says:

    My class loved this section and the pages, Mary Elizabeth. Thanks so much for sharing this process and your advice. They really took it to heart since it came from “a real, published writer”. We’ll revisit it after we write our NaNos!

    • Mary Elizabeth Summer says:

      Hi, Bird! Sorry it took me so long to reply. I didn’t realize you’d left a comment here.

      I’m so glad your class got something out of the post and the pages! If you ever want to schedule a Skype visit, or if I can contribute in any other way, don’t hesitate to let me know!

      *hugs*

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