The Editing Process

I have to admit that when I first became a freelance editor, I disappointed a few clients. Not because my revisions were poor or because my insight was unhelpful, but because I didn’t think to address the writers’ assumptions about the editing process. Thankfully, experience taught me to be more explicit about what new writers (or those who have never worked with a professional editor) can expect.

There are different types of editing, so you’ll probably need more than one round.

When a writer first contacts me for editing services, the first thing I do is establish the type of editing they’re looking for. For me, as a writer and an editor, developmental editing is always the first step. Stylistic editing and/or some other type of language revision, like copy editing or proofreading, come later.

Some writers hope to cover both content and language in a single round, but I usually advise against this. Why? Because if your editor cleans up the language for grammar, flow, and consistency but also suggests alterations to the content, you may have paid your editor to revise content that won’t be part of the final draft. Furthermore, when you add new content, transitions may need to be adjusted and the new content will need reviewing. It makes much more sense to reserve language revision for later—only after you’re confident about the content.

You’ve still got work to do.

After a round of editing, regardless of the nature of the revision, you’ve still got work to do. What you’ll get back from your editor is not a polished manuscript ready for publication. You’ll need to review their changes or feedback and decide what advice or recommendations you’ll implement, and which you’ll politely ignore.

For example, your editor may suggest an expansion or the addition of some information. Unless you have a ghostwriter, only you can introduce the missing content. Your editor may be able to make suggestions, but ultimately, it’s up to you to determine how to bridge the gap pointed out to you.

Similarly, if your editor recommends the omission of some content, she probably has some good reasons for this. But in the end, you’re the only one who knows what your reasons for including it were. You’ll need to review it to make sure that your message hasn’t been lost in the adjustments. You may choose to accept your editor’s change (e.g., it was redundant, so it’s better to leave it out) or you might take the suggestion as a sign that you’ve got some adjustments to make. Perhaps you did include it for a reason; you’ll simply have to make that reason more evident.

Even when it comes to grammar, you may choose to reject some of your editor’s changes. Perhaps your dialogue was ungrammatical for the sake of character voice. Or perhaps it’s simply a part of your authorial voice (e.g., your dialect). Writing is an art, so in my opinion, even grammar can be considered optional (even if some may disagree with this). This may be my training in sociolinguistics speaking.

What to Expect: From Inquiry to Delivery

Every editor has a different approach, but here’s how I like to proceed starting with the initial inquiry:

  1. Inquiry. When a writer makes an inquiry, they might already know exactly what they’re looking for. If they don’t, we discuss the options to make a decision together. I usually describe the types of editing, make a recommendation, and suggest a sample.
  2. Sample. This isn’t a suitable step for all projects, but for bigger manuscripts or more intensive levels of support, I often propose starting with a sample of 500-2000 words. This benefits both parties. As the editor, I get to familiarize myself with author’s writing style and the manuscript’s strengths and weaknesses and confirm the level of editing it needs. The writer, on the other hand, gets to see what my approach is like before deciding to move forward.
  3. Contract. If we’re both on the same page (forgive the cliché, but it feels right here), I’ll make a proposal. This is nothing fancy, just my word rate for the remainder of the revision (based on what I know about the manuscript) and the projected delivery date. If the writer agrees, we’ll start the contract and they’ll hand the manuscript off to me for revision.
  4. Revision. Finally, I review the manuscript from top to bottom. I prefer to use Microsoft Word to track changes and/or to add in-line comments wherever necessary. The revised manuscript is usually accompanied by an editor’s note that usually includes some macro-level feedback and editor’s notes that give detailed micro-level feedback and, where possible, suggestions.
  5. Delivery. This marks the end of a single round of editing. The writer will have a revised manuscript and feedback to review, and it’ll be up to him or her to decide what to implement and how. Sometimes this is as straightforward as accepting changes to grammar, punctuation, and word choices (using Word’s Track Changes feature). In other cases, it requires more consideration, perhaps some writing, and maybe more editing.
  6. What next? This is up to the author and depends on the kind of revision the manuscript has already been treated with. The author may want a second round of developmental editing after incorporating the feedback from a first round, or perhaps it’s time to move on to stylistic editing, copy editing, or proofreading. Finally, don’t forget the value of beta readers and writer’s groups to get insight from different kinds of readers.