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The Editing Process

My experience with a traditional publisher

A client recently asked me about my own journey, specifically (given where I was with my current novel) "what happens next?" They are hoping to be traditionally published and it struck me that they were writing toward a goal (as I had when I started) with no clear idea of what might happen once they achieved it.

Here's what I know.

(And this is just from my experience and eavesdropping on others' ... one size DOES NOT fit all!)

Working with an editor in a traditional publishing house (that is to say, one where editing, marketing/publicity, and print services are provided) can be markedly different from working with a

freelancer (for a variety of reasons I'll explore in a future blog). As part of a larger concern, your book's journey is liable to change more than at any time previously. Why? In a nutshell, other people's input.

The process

But before we get to that, procedure-wise, your editing experience will look something like this:

Your designated editor reads and will deliver a structural (aka a developmental) edit. This will look at the big picture stuff from plot and story, to character and theme. The results of this might be delivered to you at an editorial meeting (in person with coffee and lovely little cakes, or virtually in your PJs) or via a report, or both. My experience has been the latter, a discussion followed up by a written summary of everything discussed. This gives the opportunity for brainstorming on the go, and also gives you a chance to ask questions ... the important one being 'why?'

Why, "Why?"

For me, being clear about the forces which are driving changes helps you understand the best way to affect those changes. If you're self-publishing and working with a freelancer, suggested changes will most likely focus on craft, whereas once you're under the umbrella of a traditional house other influences come into play: market, or foreign rights, for example. Not that freelancers don't suggest changes based on these factors, but they are less likely to be pressed. Changes based on market forces shouldn't be seen as contrary to craft changes by the way - publishers know how to sell books - it's what they do, so try not to be disheartened if your vision is tweaked in order to increase the likelihood of additional rights sales!

Structural edits may go on for several rounds, and the editing process can become a real collaboration of ideas. Trying things out for size, pulling at threads to see what happens, taking things out ... occasionally putting them back again! It really does depend on workload and deadline. It might also depend on how many editors are working on the book. If you're lucky, you might have other in-house editors, or even freelancers, providing input. (I've done reading for one of the big five in this way, to provide an extra pair of eyes).

It may feel like it's going on forever and all your emails from your editor begin 'Well done ... we're so close now ...'

But all good things must come to an end; eventually, your structure will be sound, your plot will be tight, and your characters will be leading the charge.

At that point, your book will be line-edited. This involves polishing up those sentences, tightening the pace, rearranging paragraphs and scenes, and chopping back on all those darlings. Some eds will do a light copy-edit at the same time, picking up grammar and punctuation as they go (when line-editing it's sometimes hard not to!) For me, line editing is both the easiest and the hardest stage. In one sense, it's part life lesson: for each change made, click 'accept', and move on. But oh the agony at losing a beloved phrase, or description ... yes it probably does labour a point I already made, but it's so poetic. SNIP!

Accept. And move on.

Because once that's done, your draft is now complete. If you're waiting on payment of a portion of your advance, this is when you'll get it. A finished draft. (Yes, this is your final draft ... not the ten 'final drafts' labeled on your laptop as final, final_1, final_final, etc)

Next is the copy edit stage. The manuscript will be sent, either to the copy department or to a freelance editor for polishing. At this stage, it's still in Word doc format, and you still get to accept changes: punctuation, grammar, repeat words, consistency, sense-checking, formatting issues (odd font changes, or additional spaces, that sort of thing), and house style.*

Once this is complete the manuscript will be converted into a pdf in a process called typesetting - this is very exciting as it's at this point it begins to look like a book. Your chapter headers will be in a different font, possibly with line illustrations, and if you're writing for younger children, your illustrations may be included (if not, space for them will be).

* House Style: for consistency, publishers adopt house rules, for example: OK, or okay, all right, or alright, -ise or -ize, use of serial/Oxford comma, etc

Finally, you'll get one more look before publication - either as an electronic version of the pdf, or, if you're lucky a physical, bound proof. At this point, you may realise (either with elation or terror) that other people are also reading it and your book will very soon be hitting the shelves!

Traditional editing is a process that is sometimes very slow, and sometimes far too quick but is usually extremely thorough - which is great as you, the writer, aren't paying for it. It is, of course, altogether different for most self-published authors. But that's another story ...

For now, to my lovely client who asked the question, I hope this helps, and thank you for inspiring a blog!

Happy writing! And if you'd like your own developmental edit, click here


for all other inquiries simply click below and say hello

From EmDashED Freelance Novel Editing


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