Working with an editor for the first time can be nerve-wracking. It’s scary to send off your manuscript that you’ve toiled and cried over to someone else to critique. But it’s a necessary stage of the publishing process, whether you choose traditional or independent publishing.
We’ve talked a lot about editing your own manuscripts and working with editors. ProWritingAid’s program and our blog can help you deliver a good manuscript to your editor. But what happens when your editor sends back your book? Where do you start?
How you approach your edits depends on what type of editing you received: developmental, content, line, or proofreading. There are, however, some general guidelines you can follow at the beginning.
There it is, right in your email inbox. The edited copy of your manuscript. You might be wondering if your book is even any good. Did they completely eviscerate your work? Have they told you there’s no way you should publish anything? Did they hate your main character?
First of all, take a deep breath. Hopefully, you spent some time finding the right editor for you. They probably wouldn’t take on your book if they didn’t think it showed promise.
Editors are not there to change your entire story. They aren’t there to discourage you from publishing. They are only there to help you publish the best possible book.
Feel better? Good. Now you can open your edit letter.
Generally, editors will send you a letter with an overview of their thoughts and edits. These might address major plot issues or themes or repeated errors. My editor always includes my overused words and phrases in her edit letter.
Muse on the feedback in the letter before opening your manuscript. It will give you a general idea of what to expect.
Then, open the edited book. You might see a lot of red lines and a ton of comments. That’s okay. We’ll figure out how to apply those edits shortly. First, you should read through all the comments.
Don’t apply any changes when you first read through the edits. Just see what your editor has suggested and keep an open mind. This will help you prioritize how to approach any changes. Going chapter-by-chapter might not be the best way to address the feedback you’ve received.
After this step, how you approach your edits will vary depending on the type of edits you received. I recommend working from the biggest issues to the smallest issues.
Developmental and Content Edits
Developmental/substantive edits and content edits focus on the largest issues. Because different editors use different terminology to mean the same thing, I’m going to address both together. In general, a developmental or substantive edits happens early in the creation of the manuscript, while a content edit happens after the first or second draft is completed.
These edits deal with the big issues. Your editor might point out plot holes or characterizations. Pacing is another common aspect your editor may provide feedback on. This is also the area where themes, point-of-view, and conflict are addressed.
These can be overwhelming, so it’s best to organize them and prioritize them. You can do this in any way that makes sense to you.
One way would be to organize your editing to-do list by type. For example, you can fix all your point-of-view issues in one pass and all your conflict issues in another.
I prefer to prioritize but what I think will either be the hardest or take the longest. This will be different for each writer. Anywhere you need to flesh things out will generally be something you want to do before you start cutting things out. Fixing plot holes that go throughout the entire book will be harder than one tiny inconsistency.
Once you’ve made all your edits—and it might take a long time—read through your manuscript again to make sure it flows well. Sometimes we accidentally cut crucial information when we are editing something else.
Line Edits and Proofreading
Line edits are where your editor goes line by line to critique your word choice, syntax, and flow. These edits might be more tedious for the editor, but they tend to go faster for the author.
I still recommend reading over all of your edits before you get started. After that, line edits are easier to go chapter-by-chapter.
The important thing to decide with line edits is whether to keep your editor’s suggestion or not. This is especially true for indie authors. We don’t have to keep any suggestions we don’t agree with.
But keep a couple of things in mind. First of all, your editor suggested a change for a reason. While you might not want their change, it’s a good idea to rework the phrase or sentence anyway. Your editor might have suggested a word that you wouldn’t use or rewritten a sentence in a way that doesn’t match your voice. That’s okay, but you probably want to make some sort of adjustment. Second, if your editor didn’t explain why they made the change, you can always ask them.
Proofreading is the final step for a manuscript. For indie authors, we approve any proofreading changes ourselves. Traditional publishers might do this for you. I prefer to have a different editor do my proofreading so that fresh eyes are checking spelling and grammar. Go line-by-line to fix any mistakes.
For indie authors, proofreading can also lead to differences in stylistic choices. You have the final say in this. For example, my proofreader got rid of all of my semicolons and replaced them with em dashes. I love semicolons, so I kept some for variety but changed others to dashes. I also hate the American spelling of “gray,” so I kept all of these instances as “grey.”
Final Thoughts On Your Edited Manuscript
You always have the option to reach back out to your editor and ask for questions or clarifications. However, editors are busy people. Don’t clog up their inbox with one question after another. Instead, send a list of as many questions as you can think of. This is one reason I like to read all my edits before I make any changes. You can also keep a running list of questions as you edit to send.
Give yourself plenty of time to complete your edits. Create a realistic timeline and keep yourself organized. It will save you a headache in the long run.
What’s the hardest part of editing your manuscript? Let us know in the comments.