Editing Phases

Not that you asked for this, but because someone I know had nooooooo idea what I’m currently doing to put bread on the table (“Um, writing?” was the guess), I thought I’d share what I do before I announce the winner of John Howell’s scrumptious novel, Eternal Road. Feel free to mentally check out if you’re not interested. Or, find yourself some coffee/tea and a doughnut/muffin/cookie/peanuts/whatever if you are.


I mentioned in a previous post that I wear many hats. These days, I am a freelance book editor/writer. Some people think editing is glorified proofreading—that all I do is check for typos and maybe correct a few mistakes in grammar.

Usually, when I’m hired by a publisher to edit a novel, I have to do what’s called a revision pass on the book. During that phase, I read the book and make notes on what the author needs to revise before the line edit occurs. This is the big picture phase. I have to say what works and what doesn’t. This is the place to address issues of character/perspective, setting, timeline, etc. Some big picture issues, however, don’t rear their heads until the line edit begins.

At this point, I’m not yet communicating with the author—just the in-house executive editor, publisher, or managing editor (whoever hired me to do the work). But this is the phase where I might say, “This character is not doing anything for this book. I suggest you cut him/her” or “Maybe this scene should come from this character’s perspective.” I often have to make hard calls like that. Another hard call is to say, “This scene that you’ve probably worked on for two weeks has to go, because it’s not advancing the plot one iota.” Believe me, I’ve been there in regard to cutting cherished scenes. (I’m the one who worked on a scene for two weeks only to have someone tell me to cut it.) So having to say that to someone is hard.

Some of you might be getting mad right about now, wondering how dare I tell an author to cut a cherished scene. But I do it, because that’s my job. I don’t work for the author. I work for the publisher. My job is make sure that whatever book I work on is acceptable to the publisher. So I can’t be a pushover in this regard. After all, would anyone want a dentist to tell you to keep the cavity you worked on for a year? If it’s hurting you, it has to go. But I will do my best to be fair. After all, editing choices are not a spur-of-the-moment choices. They come through a careful analysis of the book.

If the deadline is tight (and I don’t know too many publishing deadlines that aren’t these days), I’ll get a head start on the style sheet while the author revises the manuscript. The style sheet is a list of every character, place, and animal in the book, as well as other important proper nouns (wars, inventions, festivals, setting details), and issues the copy editor or proofreader might run up against. If the author spells a word a certain way (good-bye versus goodbye), that has to be noted as well. Terms that could be spelled a certain way have to be verified via the dictionary to avoid any confusion for the copy editor, proofreader, or anyone else who works on the book. Terms and grammar issues also have to be verified through The Chicago Manual of Style (17th edition) and the publisher’s style manual. I have to turn in the style sheet when I turn in the edited manuscript.

It’s a challenging job! Though as I mentioned I don’t work for the author, I am the author’s advocate. Everything is done to help that person’s book to shine.

Reinforcements I sometimes need when the going gets tough

I’ll stop here and get to the winner of John’s book. And that person is Laura Bruno Lilly. Congrats, Laura! Please comment below to confirm.

Edit image from clker.com. Proofread image from dreamstime.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

44 thoughts on “Editing Phases

  1. If a writer can’t make a cut at the advice of their editor, they’ll never make it. Congratulations, Laura! You’ll love John’s book. Thanks for the reminder to get my review up, L. Marie.

    • It truly is!!! I had no idea how tough it was when I first started many years ago! There are so many things you have to look up. A friend who also is an editor told me could barely stand to look at The Chicago Manual of Style. I know what she means! I have to pick that book up dozens of times every day to look up this rule of that rule!

  2. I have the highest regard for editors like you. The hardest part of editing for both writer and editor, I think, is the developmental editing phase. You said, “Some of you might be getting mad right about now, wondering how dare I tell an author to cut a cherished scene.” I never got mad at my editor for doing the “killing my darlings” thing to my manuscript. Well, maybe I winced but respected honest opinion and complied with the suggestion.

    I relate to the reinforcements required too. Brava, dear L. Marie! 😉

    • Thank you, Marian! 😊 Because I am an author I also wince. So many factors have to be considered, pacing being one of them. This is not to say that an author can’t push back. When that happens, I have to go with what the author wants, even if I know for sure the book is better without a character or a scene. In cases like that, it is great to have the backing of an in-house editor.

  3. Some writers think that creating the work is the hard part of writing. I’ve come to learn that the hard part is receiving and processing feedback – sorting the constructive from the destructive, and applying that which makes the work better. Such a difficult task.

    • So true, Arlene. Both are difficult tasks. As an editor, I have to put aside any thoughts of how I would have written the book and focus on the author’s vision. A tough balance.

  4. !yippee!
    I wanted to read this book! Never figured I’d get it presented to me on a silver platter via a random-name-picker program! HA! Thanks, L.Marie! And thanks John for writing the book…
    This blog post is rich, lady. And your experience both behind the writing table and as an editor really adds perspective to the long road to ‘publication’ of mss. You certainly earn your ‘daily bread’.
    And….I spied a bottle of Snapple…my fav is Peach Tea Snapple, looks like yours is an apple-type.

  5. I remember contemplating a career in editing. I majored in English in undergrad and that was a definite career possibility. I didn’t go that route but I read your wonderful post and have to wonder if I could have been an editor? It seems difficult, but rewarding. So cool that you get to shape a novel, making it better.

    • Thank you, Ally! I’ll bet you would make a fine editor!
      I also majored in English with a concentration on creative writing. I started my editorial career as a proofreader. Over the years, I applied for editorial positions at various companies (starting as an associate editor at one place), and then had to be promoted to editor. So yes, it is tough but rewarding.

  6. Thank you for sharing what you do, Linda. I knew you did editing work for publishers, but I know there is all different kinds of editing and didn’t know which you did. It sounds very tedious.

    In the WIP I’m working on right now, there are a lot of characters, and I’m even having a difficult time keeping up with the characteristics of each. I’ve made a character list, but I don’t even know if I’ve got them all consistent on that sheet! I’m not used to writing a lot of characters, so this has been really hard.

    I appreciated learning what it is you do. I can imagine how tedious it is for you to make sure the author is consistent and has story flow.

    • I’m glad you’re working on that list! It is so helpful to have. I have to keep returning to my lists for a refresher on what characters look like.😀

      Consistency is hard to manage alone. I guess that’s why some production companies have a team of people working on continuity!

  7. A fascinating look at the editor’s job, Linda. I am so pleased with my editor and never question her suggestions. My congratulations to Laura. and my thanks to you for your support.

  8. Linda, that’s so interesting. Thank you for explaining it. It’s always hard to be asked to change what you’ve written. On the other hand, it’s good to have support and good advice.

    One of the things I found difficult in my upcoming book was time and dates. How old were each of the characters when they met, when they married, when they moved, when her father died, when he graduated from college? Where were each of the characters when the coup started, when it ended? Then when I revised something, how many of those dates and ages did I need to change?

    • Those are good questions to ask. I appreciate a timeline with birthdays especially. The best friend I have, besides a thesaurus, is a calendar to see days and months.

  9. Very interesting, L. Marie! I’m very grateful to any editor who tells the author to cut those superfluous scenes – I wish more editors would be firmer about it. As you know, my most frequent complaint is about unnecessary padding. We all need an outside perspective – it’s impossible to be objective about our own work, whatever field we work in. And I’m guessing the process of editing other people’s work probably makes you more thoughtful about your own…

    • Yes, unnecessary padding is indeed frustrating. And you’re right–objectivity is difficult. We’re too close to our work. A scene we might think is wonderfully might be a stumbling block to someone else.

      And yes, I can’t help returning to a WIP to see where I missed the mark!

  10. Thank you for this essay, which addresses various levels of editing. I was on a Zoom panel on historical fiction tonight, and I talked about spending several days hunting down information for a scene that was later cut from the book.

  11. This was so informative, L. Marie. Thank you. I’ve read books in my time where I thought “didn’t anyone edit this?”. I would want you as my editor and respect even more what you do having read this.

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