The Book-Editing Process


Do I Need a Professional Book Editor?


In an ideal manuscript-editing situation, communication flows between author and editor (via e-mails or even a phone call, if necessary). I know firsthand how much effort goes into writing a book, so I assume you care passionately about your brainchild and want to do a thorough job of bringing it to perfection. For this reason, I follow the procedure that most publishers use: first pass, author review, and cleanup. The only difference is that I break each manuscript into three-chapter sections (or whatever size the author wants a section to be). (See the article “Free Sample Edit, Price Quote, and Fees” for details on how the three-chapter schedule works.)

1. First Pass: In the first stage of editing, I turn on “Track Changes” so that every change I make shows up in another font color, compared to the original black type. Later, when you, the author, type in comments or answers to queries, they will appear in a third color. If I encounter a written passage I don’t understand, I insert a query in the text to you. I might fill an edited book with thirty to fifty queries, all of which you will need to answer when reviewing the edits. While editing, I make thousands of judgment calls without querying, if I feel that I understand what you are trying to say. In some cases, however, I really cannot guess what you mean, so I must insert a query. Until receiving your answer, I put off editing that sentence until the “second pass,” or “cleanup.” It is crucial that you answer my queries because if certain passages confuse me, they may equally mystify the reader. You, the author, being so close to the book, might not realize that the meaning of a sentence is not crystal clear to everyone who reads it. Only when I learn what you really meant can I edit the sentence during cleanup to reflect your intent.

2. Author Review: For the second stage, I e-mail the edited section of manuscript to you for review. At this time, you can add new material, answer my queries, and change anything you want. To answer or add new sentences, you will simply type a response right after the query or add new material in the place it belongs. I cannot stress enough how essential it is for authors to answer all queries. With every book, I put off making quite a few decisions in editing difficult passages until the author supplies me with more information.

3. Cleanup (Second Pass): You, the author, will then e-mail that section of the manuscript back to me for “cleanup.” In this step, I read all of your insertions and answers and do any final editing that is necessary in those passages. This is my last chance to clarify the ideas that were confusing on the first pass. I click “Accept Revisions,” which gets rid of all of the cross-outs and colored fonts added by “Track Changes,” then I do another spell check. Regarding the cleanup, sometimes I charge by the hour, and other times for large books I throw in the cleanup for free, or I tell the author the first four or five hours of work are free, then I'll charge for any hours over that. If the author decides to rewrite a substantial amount of the book during the cleanup phase, I'll need to decide on a case-by-case basis how much to charge for editing the new material.

4. Returning the Manuscript: After all sections of the manuscript go through these three stages, I e-mail the entire clean manuscript back to you, at which point you can either print out a hard copy or use the e-file to submit to agents and publishers.


I was going to keep this explanation brief, after spelling out the previous steps for first-time authors or those who have never hired a professional book-editing service. Yet sometimes problems crop up with new authors, so forewarned is forearmed.

Apple’s Pages software and iPads: This software simply won’t work for the editing process. (And I say this as a Mac user from Day 1.) There is no substitute for Microsoft Word. Even if the original manuscript was typed in Word, and I edited it in Word, if I send an author an email attachment of an edited Word doc, and he opens it on an iPad with Apple’s word-processing program “Pages,” the doc won’t show any Tracked Changes. Rather, the crossed-out words won’t show up at all, and the new words I added will be saved as black font, so the author will have no idea what I changed. Even worse, if I typed yellow-highlighted queries into the text for the author to answer, but they question passages I either crossed out or added, the author won’t be able to tell what the queries refer to. If the author then tries re-translating the Pages file back into Word, the Track Changes will be permanently gone. In addition, the translation of even normal text without Tracked Changes often gets screwy, with hyphens randomly added and formatting or punctuation changed. The moral of the story: Do not use an inferior word-processing program at any stage of the editing process. The industry standard is Microsoft Word.

Never turn off Track Changes: After I finish the first pass of editing and send the author the manuscript to review, it’s crucial that the author leaves Track Changes on. If an author turns TC off and then proceeds to change passages and add new text, all of the new text will be displayed as black font. This will be a nightmare, because I'll have no way to see any additions or deletions the author has made, without doing a word-for-word edit of the entire manuscript again—an edit more tedious and time consuming than the first go-round, because I'd need to put both the previous and the new document side by side onscreen and compare each word.

Don’t cut-and-paste revised sections together into one document at any stage of the editing process: Otherwise, all of the Track Changes will be lost, if you follow Microsoft’s normal instructions for cutting/copying and pasting. Then I will have no way of seeing any of your revisions, and I’ll have to edit the entire manuscript again, word for word. (And I’ll charge by the hour to do this.)  Remember: It is my job at the end of the “cleanup stage” to combine all of the sections, and I know how to do it using a special method without losing the Track Changes.

I know you want what is best for your book, and so do I. If we follow the correct procedure, we'll both be happy with the results.