An Introduction to the Editing Process



There are two crucial parts to every book you write. The first is the writing and completion of your manuscript and preparing it for acquisition and publication, and the second is everything that goes along with the production, marketing, sale, and distribution of your book. When you have completed your story, you want to edit your own work to produce a final draft that is as polished as you can make it prior to submission. Understand, however, that as much work as you do on the manuscript at this stage, it will only be the start of the editing process.


If you are fortunate enough to be accepted by an agent or publisher, they will have their own views about how the book can be further improved. A good literary agent will often edit or critique a manuscript they are looking to take on and offer valuable suggestions to increase its marketability. They do not offer line-by-line edits or make rewrites. It is up to the author to incorporate the agent's suggested changes. You may not agree with all their suggestions, but, like your beta readers, remember that they are trying to help you improve your novel. The book will be subject to an even more detailed editorial process prior to publication, because in order to be ready for publication, a manuscript must go through multiple rounds of editing, first by the you as the author, and then in collaboration with an editor. Whether you choose the editor because you are self-publishing or one is supplied by your publisher, a professional editor is essential. Editing is broken down into three major phases that include developmental editing, copy editing, and proofreading.

Authors often find this process frustrating, especially when you may feel as if you are not making progress. Remember though, this is a critical part of improving your work and making it more saleable. When you have worked your way through the differences of opinion, you will almost always end up with a far better book. Having said that, many authors hate the editing process. It feels less creative than the writing process, and, depending on the state of your initial manuscript, can be a challenging time. Sometimes you may feel that while you sort a hole in the plot or a timing issue, all you do is add many more problems. It is hard work, and it requires concentration and attention to detail. Having said that, it is necessary to present your work in the best possible light.


The first question you need to consider is how much you want to edit your manuscript before submitting it to an agent or publisher. Many writers worry that, if they send out a draft that is too polished, agents and publishers may not see any potential for developing or changing the book to meet their stable or imprint. While there may be a little truth in this, an agent or publisher will definitely look for potential before they seek a perfectly polished piece.


However, there is far more danger that, in working through a large pile of submissions, an agent or publisher will be distracted by superficial problems with your draft and therefore fail to see its best qualities. Should your draft suffer from repetition, too much description, or unrealistic dialogue, an agent or publisher may decide not to read further and thus fail to appreciate the strength of your novel.

Edit your manuscript until you are really pleased with it. If you are not happy with it, you should not want to show it to anybody else. It is largely a matter of self-esteem and self-confidence. If you have any doubt about the quality of your book or if you are aware of flaws that you could have fixed, then you will not do your submission justice. Your covering letter will not have the intrinsic enthusiasm to pique the interest of an agent or publisher.


More and more debut authors decide to have their work professionally edited prior to submitting their novel to an agent or publisher. This is not cheap, but it is certainly worth considering if you can afford to do it. There are three things that writers and editors should always be mindful of from the outset of their relationship.

Not all editors are the same: editors have different skill sets and specialisms. Check that your editor is willing and able to give you the support you need.

  • Not all authors are the same: writers have different budgets, goals and preferences. Make sure you are clear when you explain what you need to your editor, then put the contract in writing.

  • Opinion abounds about whether writers should hire editors. And while there is no consensus, some overarching good-sense guidance prevails. I recommend that writers make informed decisions based on a solid understanding of editorial process, and that editors make informed decisions based on professional integrity and a solid understanding of the author’s intention.

You must first identify a reputable editor. The services editors offer vary widely. Make sure the type of edit you secure is what you are looking for. Services range from a review or critique of your manuscript all the way to a detailed structural edit or even copy-editing.


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