E is for Edit

This post is part of an ongoing series, the Author’s Alphabet. Click on the tag below to read more in the series!

E is for Edit.

And edit again. And edit one more time. And yet another. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Every round of editing has a different purpose. Each is necessary to achieve the ultimate writer’s goal—a publishable book.

E Block
The first round of edits are revisions. Revisions may include changes to characters (and characterization), to setting, to plot. (Authors who create their plot organically—so-called “pantsers”—are likely to invest a fair amount of time in revisions to make the beginning of their plot line up with the end.) Revisions allow an author to re-vision his story, to see it again, in a different light.

Some authors avoid doing any revisions as they write. They start their story at the beginning of chapter one, and they create straight through, without any editorial interruption, without any break to update “mistakes” along the way. Typically, these authors leave themselves notes, either in their working files or in a separate place, detailing the changes they will need to incorporate down the road.

Other authors execute revisions as they write. They spend a session drafting a section of their book, and then they spend the next session revising those words. This “leap-frog” system keeps the book moving forward in a consistent manner. By the time the author reaches the end of her “first draft,” she has actually completed a second draft.

For a handful of writers, a single round of revisions suffices. Most of us, though, require additional drafts, integrating the revised text more completely, smoothing over errors or inconsistencies introduced by the new text. For most writers, a final round of revisions corrects grammar and usage. The end-point of revisions is the final draft.

But editing is far from done.

After an author achieves a final draft, she’s ready to pass her work on to peer critics (See, C is for Critique.) Beta readers or critique partners can help expose flaws in a book, viewing the story with fresh eyes and analyzing how it holds together over the course of the narration.

Critique partners deliver their opinions, either in person or electronically. Of course, authors aren’t bound to accept those criticisms; however, a fresh round of revisions allows the author to consider each note. Authors can answer critics’ questions, accept suggested changes, reject suggested changes, or implement alternatives to suggested changes.

And then it’s time for another round of editing.

Next up is development editing (sometimes called content editing.)  Developmental editors are outside professionals—employees of publishing houses (for authors who are traditionally published) or contract employees (for authors who are self-published.)  Developmental editors may be paid by the hour, by the word (counting the words of the author’s manuscript, not the words of the editor’s critique), or by the task. Authors should negotiate payment before the editor begins work.

Typically, a developmental editor produces two documents.  The first is an overview including reactions to the work as a whole, written in paragraph form. This overview includes notes on all aspects of the novel. It may include notes about marketability, including genre placement.

The second document expected from a developmental editor is a marked up version of the manuscript. This markup, often completed using the Track Changes feature of Word, allows the editor to make comments about specific words or sentences. It also allows correction of typographic errors (although such corrections are not the primary focus of developmental edits.)
Once the author receives developmental edits, he undertakes another round of revision. Once again, the author can accept or reject changes or come up with solutions that address concerns in a different way than the editor envisioned. Self-published authors are never bound by their editors’ suggestions. Most traditionally published authors also remain the final arbiter of the manuscript; however, they might need to engage in political negotiations to do so.

But editing isn’t finished yet.

The final round of editing is copy editing. Copy editors review work that is formatted for publication. The finality of formatting can vary—some copy editors read type-set galley proofs (for print books); others read PDF or .epub or .mobi files (for electronic books.) Many electronic books, though, are copy edited in a word-processor version, so the copy editor can make notations directly on the file (which is typically difficult to accomplish with PDF, .epub, or .mobi files.)

Copy editors wear multiple hats.  They are responsible for proofreading, for catching typographic errors, grammar mistakes, and usage slips. Good copy editors also read for continuity errors (including characters’ varying hair and eye color, calendar mistakes, weather inconsistencies, changing phases of the moon, etc.) The most valuable copy editors work over multiple books in a series, maintaining uniform standards throughout.

Authors can help copy editors by providing a list of all proper names in a work, along with notations about specific aspects of worldbuilding (e.g., levels of magicians in an arcane guild, or ranks in a military force.)  A good copy editor returns a style sheet with the manuscript, detailing the same data (which often is more complete than the author’s original list.)

Once the author receives her copy edits, it’s time for another round of revision.  Typically, authors accept most of the edits suggested by their copy editors.  Some copy editors, though, overstep their bounds, “correcting” intentional non-standard usage (or, occasionally, “correcting” text that was actually correct in the original.) In that case, the author can “stet” the copy edits. For a self-published author, “stet” amounts to ignoring the edits. A traditionally published author writes “stet” beside the copy editor’s suggestion, thereby signaling the typesetter to keep the original.

A complete book requires at least three rounds of edits. Some result from a dozen or more. Each stage should make the book better, incrementally building a story that can’t be resisted by readers.

If you’re a writer, how many rounds of edits do you typically do? If you’re a reader, do you see a difference between books that are traditionally published (and edited) and those that are self-published?




E is for Edit — 2 Comments

  1. As someone who does both developmental and copyediting, allow me to point out that copyeditors *don’t* typically read galleys/PDFs/ebooks; copyeditors read clean manuscripts (and often prepare them for typesetting by adding typecodes or styles). The copyedit is the last point where an author can change their mind about something and add or delete small amounts of text; once a text is typeset this becomes awkward and often expensive.
    After the copyedit, there should be at least one round of proofreading (there used to be two; mss and galleys, but with electronic workflows this has mostly fallen by the wayside. Proofreaders catch errors that the CE missed as well as any errors that slipped in during the typesetting/ebook conversion process.

  2. Typically, authors accept most of the edits suggested by their copy editors.

    *cracks up laughing*

    (or maybe I’m just atypical? I was always a great stetter in the time of paper MSs – to the point where an editor asked me once if I wouldn’t just prefer to skip the copy-edit stage entirely. These days of electronic editing, I have actual arguments in the margins about why my original version is better than theirs. Sometimes we back-and-forth like ping-pong. It all takes a hell of a lot longer than “stet” ever did…)