The first step towards publishing your book is to edit your manuscript. At this point, you need to consider what the book editing and proofreading process is like. Should you approach a publishing house, or self-publishing platforms? Should you self-edit? If you’re hiring someone for the task, what are the processes involved in book editing and proofreading? Let’s tackle these questions one by one.

A book editor works on a manuscript.

Self-editing

A writer may benefit from going over their manuscript a few times on their own. Moreover, you can also ask friends and beta readers to do this for you. This helps root out many errors from the document and brings down your editing costs. However, self-editing does not accomplish much more than this.

Writers looking to self-publish their book may be tempted to believe that self-editing is the best way forward, but that is not true. No matter how many times you go over your document, some errors are bound to slip in. Readers will easily catch on to these mistakes and end up with a poor impression of your book.

It is easy for readers and third parties to spot mistakes in your manuscript because they are not as close, or as attached, to your book. Plus, professional book editors are trained in the different types of editing that you may not have an eye for! Since you lack the proper training to approach your work with distance and objectivity, you need to hire someone to do that on your behalf. This is the chief reason that self-publishing platforms offer book editing and proofreading as primary publishing services.

Plus, an editor’s role is more than just cutting mistakes from your book. Editors provide valuable suggestions from their experience that help perfect your manuscript. Therefore, hiring an experienced editor is the wise thing to do.

What are the five essential editing processes?

1. Editorial assessment

As you may be aware, there are various types of editing that every manuscript must go through. Depending on your own book and writing style, however, you may need some types of editing more than others. An editorial assessment finds this out for you.

In an editorial  assessment, the editor goes through your manuscript to ascertain the levels and types of editing your work will require. Based on this, your editing costs are also calculated. After this assessment, you should have a clear idea of the editing processes your book needs most, and how much you should expect to spend on them.

Typically, an editorial assessment takes a week. You may choose to forego this step, but any self-publishing guide will warn you otherwise. This is because going through this assessment helps save your time as well as money. The editorial assessment lets you have a better understanding of your manuscript, so that you’re ready for the big-picture edits that developmental editing will offer.

2. Developmental editing

Developmental editing, also known as content editing, story editing, or substantive editing, is the first step in editing a document. A developmental editor will look at the main contents of your book. In this step, your manuscript is viewed as a whole. The editor offers comments and criticism on broader elements of your book, such as style and structure. For a cookbook, this might mean a coherent structure across different recipes, their arrangement in the book and the overall tonal consistency. For a book of nonfiction essays, the editor will focus on fact-checking as well as the pacing of the involved topics and subtopics that make up the manuscript.

Basically, developmental editing adopts a bird’s eye view on the broad strokes that make up the landscape of your book. In the case of fiction, this means your plot, characters, story arcs, and narrative development. It’s the editor’s job to point out plot holes, ineffective story points, or undeveloped character arcs. Along with these broader issues, they will also touch upon your sentence composition, dialogue writing, and word choice on a surface level.

An expert editor will keep in mind your target audience as well as your genre expectations. Based on the two, they will shape and edit your document, sometimes making major changes to the content. This is why developmental editing comes before copy editing and proofreading.

(Learn more: How is developmental editing important to your novel?)

Once your book has passed the substantive check and has arrived at its developed stage, it can be taken up by the copy editor.

3. Copy editing

Once you’ve trimmed all the dead weight and filled all the plot holes, your manuscript is ready for copy editing. This will smooth out inconsistencies in your writing, remove typing errors and spelling mistakes, and help streamline the tone and style of your book. 

A copy editor is primarily responsible for the mechanical aspect of your writing style. They will check for punctuation and grammar, and work with your unique style while also erasing the mistakes in your writing. They often take help from various manuals for this purpose, and sometimes create a style sheet which they can refer to while editing your manuscript. If developmental editing is an aerial view of your book, copy editing is more of a street view, combing through your chapters and paragraphs to weed out errors and plant useful suggestions.

(Learn more: How is copy editing different from developmental editing?)

The editor also combs through your paragraphs to maintain internal consistency in your writing. After all, you don’t want to mix up your 1948s with your 1984s. Or, for that matter, have a certain character be seen in jeans, when they were rocking denim shorts just a couple pages ago!

The mechanical aspects of copy editing help improve the readability of your book, which plays out together with the editor’s attention to the mood and style of your writing. The editor removes redundant words and phrases, offering better alternatives where necessary. They make sure that your intended tone translates clearly, and that there aren’t any disruptions or sudden tonal shifts.

In this way, a copy editor gives your manuscript a comprehensive style, preserving your voice while ensuring that your book reads well.

4. Line editing

Often, editors handle line editing alongside copy editing. Self-publishing platforms usually offer the two tasks together, since they’re incredibly close-knit. Therefore, a separate rundown of line editing isn’t strictly necessary, but it can’t hurt to go through the process for the sake of clarity.

After the developmental editors’ aerial scrutiny and the copy editor’s street purview of your labor of love, line editing a brick-by-brick examination. Line editing, as the name suggests, is a line-by-line perusal of your manuscript. Unlike copy editing, which focuses on the mechanics of stylistic accuracy (ensuring correct grammar, punctuation, and spellings), line editing focuses on the style and emotion apparent in your writing.

A line editor pays attention to your use of language as it conveys the proper tone and mood. They’re also responsible for clarity and readability of your text. As we’ve seen above, this comes very close to copy editing! So it might be a good idea to have the two tasks done together.

Once your words, phrases and sentences have passed this close scrutiny, your manuscript is ready to go through the final editing checkpoint!

5. Proofreading

Proofreading is the last stage in the editing process. Any work of writing that is released to an audience is always proofread before publishing. Proofing your manuscript will remove all the minor errors, like a misplaced hyphen or the random inconsistency, from your book.

(Learn more: How did proofreading change modern publishing?)

Believe it or not, the initial editing steps that help better your document are likely to add some new errors to it! A proofreader is able to spot these errors due to their experience and skill. Once a proofreader is done with your manuscript, you can be sure that your book is good to go.

In this way, proofreading is the final inspection, removing all errors before your book is released to the world. Proofreading concludes the editing process for your book, setting you up for typesetting.

A rundown of the five book editing and proofreading processes.

Editing process FAQs:

1. Do I have to go through all these editing steps?

Not necessarily. While it is definitely a good idea to hire professionals for your editing tasks, some writers do handle some of these processes on their own, or recruit the help of friends and beta readers.

Ultimately, it boils down to experience. If you have some publishing experience, you can risk editing on your own. But if you’re new to publishing, hiring experienced editors will always be the wiser choice.

2. How long does the whole process take?

Depends. If you’re working with a self-publishing platform, they may return your manuscript within anything from three to seven weeks! But if you’re going the traditional route, it may take around six months.

3. How much will book editing and proofreading cost me?

Based on your editorial assessment, you can figure out the places where you need to spend as well as the places where you don’t. But if you’d rather have one service provider handle all editing tasks for you and be done with it in three weeks, you can calculate your editing costs here.

If a broad overview of various self-publishing costs is what you’re looking for, head over to this article.

4. What is the difference between developmental editing and structural editing?

Developmental editing looks at all the important elements of your book, including your language, structure, style and content. On the other hand, structural editing focuses on the structural arrangement of your content.

Most editors provide structural feedback under developmental editing itself. But if you’re looking at the two processes as distinct from each other, you may view structural editing as strictly dealing with the composition and layout of your content, while developmental editing deals with the quality of it.