Sample Editing Process

I thought it might be a good idea to share my editing process for a sample project. Of course, your mileage varies with the type of text you write and the state in which the project arrives on my desk. Every project is different and so it all depends.

In addition to the project peculiarities, the author brings other aspects to the collaboration. For instance, a visually impaired client requires a different kind of manuscript markup from me, then, say, a veteran author who worked with me before and knows the particulars of my handwriting by now. In any case, this blog post will give you a general idea of how my editorial process works.

The scenario

I go through a general non-fiction book typescript, complete in 250 pages. The author has agreed to a full editing process and sent out a book proposal to publishers. The writer now wants to put the final touches on the manuscript to get it ready for submission.

Initial stage

Fact-finding mission: getting to know the author

After I was contacted and hired by the author, and an initial agreement about the business aspects of our relationship has been reached, I try to meet the author in person. This is usually an informal meeting over lunch or coffee which allows me to get to know the person, the writer and the project.

If the author put together or drafted a book proposal, I have a look at it before our initial meeting. A book proposal or synopsis gives me an idea about the target audience(s) the author has in mind and indicates the scope the book. It also provides valuable information about the book, e.g. its competitors . This allows me to get into the right frame of mind for the project and informs my editorial suggestions later on.

The first meeting is a fact-finding mission: I will be able to give advice on what I think the project needs, what may be unnecessary at this stage, which other professionals the author may want to involve etc. This initial meeting is also an opportunity to discuss the editing process, questions and specific concerns the author may have and the approximate timeline we will work with. If the author is not available for a face-to-face meeting, we will schedule a video-conference call or phone conversation.

Fact-finding mission: getting to know the manuscript

After I gathered information about The Big Picture for the project, I'll ask the author to submit a complete printout of the manuscript – possibly double-spaced, 12 pt minimum font-size, with line-numbering – they want me to edit. I read the draft and take copious notes about everything that comes to mind whilst reading. This may include, but is not limited to, notes about:

  • the author's style
  • heavily used phrases and repeating words
  • promises the author makes to the reader
  • surprising directions concerning the content
  • definitions
  • structural comments
  • thoughts on the tone of the language used
  • a list of things I have to research or look up
  • inconsistencies and questions that arise
  • ideas I have
  • things I really like
  • notions I do not agree with
  • aspects I feel are missing
  • what I understand the author is saying
  • what I think the author attempts to communicate
  • observations about how I reacted to the material the first time around
  • discrepancies between what the author told me earlier and what the manuscript reflects.

These notes are the basis from which I compile my suggestions later on. They are my primary method of keeping track of the covered content, the view point of the writer, the author's opinions, crucial details that must be kept consistent throughout the book etc. The notes also allow me to get up to speed again after a break in the editing process.

As I cannot be a subject matter expert in all the aspects a book covers, these notes are as much a «Do not forget» collection for me, as they are the first stack of raw notes for the author. During my initial reading I generate a list of impressions and questions for the author. My notes will form the foundation of a Manuscript Assessment, which I write up and present to the author in person.

Editing stage

Manuscript Assessment & action steps

After compiling the Manuscript Assessment I schedule a second meeting or phone call with the client. In this meeting, we'll discuss my first impression of the project. This is an opportunity to ask my questions, get clarity regarding uncertainties from the expert and a chance to confirm the author's commitment to a specific target audience.

I will then present what I think is needed in order to improve the manuscript. We discuss this in reference to the first meeting and I indicate what I can do for the author. The writer determines what they want me to do and what they expect from the collaboration. I write up these tasks and conditions in a formal contract on which the client then signs off.

By the end of this second meeting and after signing off on the responsibilities, I'm good to go. The author knows my next action steps and when to expect first annotations and in-depth feedback from me.

In-depth editing

If the author agreed to a full editing process, I will read the manuscript again. This time around, I take a red pen and mark everything:

  • typos
  • grammatical errors
  • spelling mistakes
  • word / phrase repetitions
  • inprecise phrases
  • unclear references
  • convoluted sentence construction
  • inappropriate tone, style, vocabulary
  • misused words
  • missing paragraphs
  • structural comments
  • inconsistencies
  • and so forth.

I include suggestions to improve or achieve:

  • readability
  • comprehension
  • precision
  • clarity
  • spelling
  • consistency
  • structure
  • style, tone, voice
  • flow
  • typography
  • etc.

In addition to marking up the typescript, I provide correct versions or alternative phrases, syntax, etc. which the author then may use at their discretion.

These annotation will give the writer plenty to work with whilst ensuring that the book remains true to the initial idea, concept and intended target audience.

As certain suggestions will be included repeatedly and some remarks will apply throughout the book, this round of in-depth editing will conclude with my writing an Editing Brief. This document summarises my editorial suggestions and includes instructions on how to go about implementing the changes the author wants to adopt. Depending on the project and state of the manuscript, the Editing Brief can be quite extensive – a tenth of the typescript length is typical. The brief will include, among other things, easy to process checklists and chronological suggestions for each part of the book.

Sending back the manuscript

After the second reading, I write the Editing Brief and send it to the author, together with the annotated typescript and a proposition for how to continue our work. The client looks at the Editing Brief and the annotations, and will contact me to schedule another meeting or phone call.

The author prepares the next meeting by going through my suggestions, implementing changes, capturing their questions and thinking about alternatives. We will then go through the questions, any remaining issues and discuss the pros and cons for some of the suggestions. It is around this time that the author does the revision of the typescript.

My last review: Proofreading

The author will implement a portion of the suggestions and will send a last printout of the typescript back to me. This time I will focus on the less substantive changes, such as typos (including those that may have been introduced with the first round of editing), misprints, punctuation, layout inconsistencies, references, cross-references, everything pertaining to correlation editing, verb tense inconsistencies, and the like.

The typescript finally goes back to the author who can put the finishing touches on the manuscript.


The end of the collaboration is usually celebrated over coffee or lunch. ;)

The typescript is now ready to be submitted to publishers or agents. If the client chooses the self-publishing route, they can work with a cover artist or graphic designer to produce the layout and typeset the manuscript. I did the typesetting for non-fiction titles in the past, but this is usually not part of my editing process.

Details & meta

Sun, 20/03/2011 - 18:59