Once upon a time, I wrote summaries of my writing process. Part I discussed brainstorming, Part II discussed outlining, and Part III discussed the actual writing.
I’ve finally finished Part IV, the editing process, at least for traditionally published print novels.
I opted to make a graphic to simplify the process. Briefly, you start at the top (writing the novel), and move down the graphic to the finished book.
Your editing focus narrows with each stage, so while you might do a lot of editing in the “Editorial Letter” stage, you do considerably less in the “Page Proof” stage.
1. Writing the Novel: This is, of course, the actual writing process. You can learn more about that here.
2. The Editorial Letter: This is the first editing stage at a traditional print publishing house. The editor reads the manuscript and addresses overall plot and story issues. (In some instances, an author’s agent also may separately provide notes on the manuscript.) For example, if you dropped a plot thread and didn’t come back to it, if the story’s pacing is off, or if characters are acting atypically, the editor will note it. The editor literally compiles these issues in a letter (or email), and the author reads through them, discusses with the editor, and revises the manuscript. This is the longest editing stage, because the edits go to the story itself.
Note: My husband just described this stage as “Getting the editorial letter and crying.” Which is true, at least for me (and no fault of my editor or agent). Writers can be a smidge sensitive about their babies.
3. Line Edits: Once the story has been edited and stitched back together, the editor will read the manuscript for general grammar and sense. (Obviously there’s some overlap between the various stages, but this is how it generally works). The author will review those edits and revise again. For my particular publisher, the revisions use Track Changes in a Microsoft Word document.
Note: At some point before or during these first two stages, the writer might have their own beta readers or assistants review the novel for continuity and cohesion with the series as a whole. That depends entirely on the author.
4. Copyedits: The story will now be passed to someone completely new. In my case, a copyeditor engaged by my publisher to review the manuscript for adherence to grammatical rules, internal consistencies (clothing changing mid-scene, for example), repetition of words or phrases, consistency with the series stylesheet, etc. The copyeditor also puts the book into rough “page” shape; for example, chapter headings and drop caps will be appropriately sized and spaced. These edits are also, at least for my publisher, made in Word using Track Changes. When that’s done, the copyedited manuscript (“CEM”) goes back to the author, who agrees to the changes, “STETs” the original, or suggests something entirely different. The author returns the manuscript to the publisher, and editors on that end will review the universe of proposed changes, make any necessary copyediting changes to the revisions themselves, and send the manuscript to another department be formatted for print.
Note: Advanced Reader Copies will now be created from the copyedited manuscript, so they may contain errors that will be caught in the final stage – page proofs – for actual printed copies.
5. Page Proofs: This is the final editing stage in which the author is involved. Unlike the previous stages, which involves a Word document, page proofs are literal printed pages of the manuscript formatted as it will look in print. Here, we’re generally not looking to change sentences, story, or grammar, but problems related to layout (erroneous punctuation, formatting problems) and the like. I suspect authors and houses have different tolerance for changes at that stage.
The entire editing process takes about three months for me, although I’m not really sure how that compares to other authors. I’m also pretty sure there are additional reading/proofreading stages that happen at the publisher and outside my purview, but I only hear about those when they have questions. For example: “Why do two of your chapters have the same title?” (Whoops.)
Hope this has been helpful. Got questions? Feel free to post them in the comments!