If you’re not sure what type of editing your manuscript needs, the best place to begin is the typical editorial process at traditional publishers. Most of us have little patience for typos or obvious mistakes in published books. This is because most of us have been raised reading traditionally published books, which follow a multi-step, team approach to manuscript editing. Your readers will also judge your book according to these standards. It’s crucial for authors arranging for their own editing to understand the editorial process used by most traditional houses, because it is this process that has yielded the virtually error-free books we expect as readers. If you don’t follow this process, it’s unrealistic to expect your book to compare favorably in quality to traditionally published books. Here is the typical editorial model in traditional publishing:
- The manuscript submission process.Most people forget this very crucial first step to editing: publishers who front the bill for editing don’t spend time editing poorly developed or poorly written books. (If the author has a book concept that the publisher believes will sell, but the author is not able to write the book according to professional standards, the publisher’s offer may be contingent on the author hiring a professional writer to produce a suitable manuscript.) Traditional publishers typically have a tremendously competitive submission process, resulting in only the best of the best to be published (according their standards).
- The manuscript review or editorial review.The manuscript is reviewed and edited by an executive editor or managing editor in charge of your book project. This would be the person you would call your “editor,” as you have talked with them personally at length about your book project and they understand your vision. Their job is to make sure your book meets the quality standards of the publisher, and their review points out any deeper revisions your manuscript will need before it goes to the copyeditor, such as missing content, unclear organization, or uneven tone or writing style.
- Author revisions.The comments from the manuscript review guide the author’s revision process, and the author completes any content, organizational, line editing, or fact checking revisions as recommended by their editor.
- Copyediting.After the editor and author are satisfied with the manuscript at this level, the manuscript is passed along to a staff or freelance copyeditor. The copyeditor corrects all grammar, style consistency issues, punctuation, typos, etc. according to the publisher’s style guide. Then the managing editor reviews it and sends it back to the author for review and approval before sending to the typesetter/designer.
- Typesetting and interior book design.This is not an editing phase, but here the manuscript is put in final layout, usually in Adobe InDesign, to yield the galleys, or proofs.
- Proofreading.The proofs are sent to a staff or freelance proofreader, to catch any remaining errors according to the house style guide. Simultaneously (or sometimes after the proofreader has corrected the proofs) the proofs are also sent to the author for final approval before printing.
Some publishers use more editing steps than this (first pass pages, etc.), but this is the most basic process followed by virtually every traditional house to produce a manuscript that is as error free as possible. (Of course, no person or process is perfect – sometimes the process has to be rushed to make a deadline, for instance – and probably every one of us has found errors in a traditionally published book.) Editors and publishers are only human, just like authors, and usually work under tremendous pressure.
For authors who qualify, we follow this same multi-step, team approach in our editing for authors who need to hire their own editorial support before publishing. We strive to provide the same kind of support and quality you would receive at a traditional house (always beginning with a manuscript review or a book plan), but we also offer the opportunity to pick and choose the manuscript editing levels you want to fit your goals, timeline, and budget (and provide personal advice to help you decide in light of all the parameters).
However, we need to emphasize this again: if your book manuscript needs anything more than the most straightforward proofreading (after the book is designed and in final layout), it is unrealistic to expect one editing pass, no matter how thorough, to produce the level of quality most readers expect. At the very least, the design process often unintentionally introduces formatting errors that the designer will not know were not the author’s intent. Unfortunately, by the time of the final proof review, the author has usually become so busy with book marketing activities and/or is so tired of reviewing the manuscript that they will only minimally review the proofs, believing they had already spent enough time on editing. This usually results in the kinds of very minor but obvious errors that readers notice instantly (double periods, a verb in the “ing” form instead of the “ed” form, etc.), which can (perhaps unfairly) make or break your reputation as an author.
So although we always try to work within the author’s parameters, we also know that any less than two editing passes beyond the manuscript review is unlikely to meet industry and reader standards for a high-quality manuscript, and provide a transparent reading experience that will build personal connections with your readers.