The Editorial Process
Blogger: Rachelle Gardner
When you’re thinking about getting your first book contract, you might be curious about what the editing process will be 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.
Here’s a general framework.
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. In non-fiction, they comment on clarity of ideas, flow, maintaining reader interest, and other big-picture concerns. 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, eliminates redundancies, 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!
This is a good time to point out that if you have any difficulties in your editing process, you should get your agent involved. We have lots of experience negotiating sticky situations, and most of us have been editors as well as writers, so we understand all the sides. In a later post, I’ll discuss what to do when the editorial process goes terribly awry.
What are your biggest concerns about editing? What do you like most about it?
A handy overview of the editing process, from agent @RachelleGardner. Click to Tweet.