What is book editing?

What Is Book Editing?

This in-depth article will provide you with a detailed outline of all you need to know about book editing. If you are a new writer just starting out, or an author looking to learn more about preparing your book for publication or submission to agents, this article will provide some insight and value.

It is a great place to start if you are new to the process, are just looking to fill in a few gaps in your knowledge, or want to find the book editing service that best fits you and your book.

It is also a good place to start if you have ever asked any of these questions:

  • 'Do you need a book editor?'
  • 'How does book editing work?'
  • 'What does book editing entail?'
  • 'What is the book editing process?'

It has been written for writers that are either looking for an agent/publisher, are self-publishing, or a mixture of both.

It will go through each important element of the book editing process, explain what a book editor does, and provide links and information to further resources.

The article covers all types of book editing including:

  • Book mentoring.
  • Manuscript Assessment.
  • Developmental Editing.
  • Copy Editing.
  • Proofreading.

Please note that this article has been written as an overview of the editing process. If you wish to gain a more detailed knowledge, links to more in-depth articles have been included at key points.

How does Book Editing Work - Tradition vs Self Publishing

The best place to start in understanding the different types of book editing is to look at the difference between traditional publishing and self-publishing.

In short, traditional publishing is focused on creating an error-free manuscript that can be mass-produced in digital and paper formats.

This means that a publishing company will focus is often on optimal editorial feedback independent of budget. This is achieved with the help of in-house support from a range of editors.

Self-publishing takes a different approach.

When self-publishing, a writer will be working with a small budget and will focus on creating the best possible book for the lowest possible investment.

This means that self-publishing writers will often skip editorial services, such as proofreading, and employ different types of professional editorial support, such as mentoring and manuscript assessment.

Traditional Publishing Editorial Process

The best way to understand how the book editing process can work for you and your book, is to first understand how the process works for a traditionally published book.

These are books that are published by a book publishing company, almost always in digital and paper format, with the goal of selling both online and in a bookstore.

The route to publication typically involves a book being submitted to an agent and the agent finding a suitable publisher. Once this publisher, agent, and writer have agreed on a deal, the book is 'commissioned,' and the process begins.

The commissioning editor will work with their internal editorial team (though they sometimes use a freelance editor) to prepare the book for publication. You would think that professional publishers would use some fancy book editing software, but the reality is that they use the same tools as authors. So, since there is no specialist book editing software, typically, at this stage, everyone works with Microsoft Word.

This editing process contains the following steps:

  1. Developmental editing.
  2. Copy editing.
  3. Proofreading.
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Self Publishing Editorial Process

The self-publishing process is often different from the process used by a book company.

This is for a number of reasons, the most important being the fact that self-publishing writers will have a smaller budget and also lack access to a dedicated editorial team. In fact, a self-publishing writer might work with just one book editor.

This means that a self-publishing writer will often skip the proofreading stage, since it is not always essential.

You will also find that some writers, especially self-publishing writers, will seek out a professional manuscript assessment before embarking on an edit.

To make things even more complex, it is becoming increasingly common for writers to work alongside a book mentor even before they have a book ready for editing.

What is Book Mentoring?

It is becoming increasingly common for writers to work with a professional editor at some point in the writing journey.

One fo the most impactful ways to do this is to work with a book mentor whilst writing your book.

Mentoring for writers is the process of partnering with an experienced professional writer, editor, and mentor to help lift your book to a publishable standard.

The writer works closely with the mentor to make your book the best it can be. This can be as early as the idea stage or as late as the first draft has been written.

The goal of working with a writing mentor is to develop a long-term professional relationship with someone that has the knowledge and commitment to help lift the book to the next level.

Not only will a mentor provide the writer with the skill and guidance needed to be a success, but they will also provide all of the knowledge needed to publish with confidence.

What is Manuscript Assessment?

Each year thousands of writers seek professional manuscript assessment services to help lift their current manuscript to the next level. Manuscript assessments are an important part of many writers’ journey to publication.

This type of editing service is also known as a critique, appraisal, or a structural report. They are all the same thing.

The service is designed to give a holistic assessment of a writer's book, looking closely at what is working, but more importantly, what is not and what needs to be changed.

A manuscript assessment is less detailed than an edit, but still provides actionable feedback. It is also less costly than other feedback and can act as ideal feedback for a writer working on a budget.

What is Developmental Editing?

This type of editing is known by several different names, it is sometimes called content editing, structural editing, story editing, comprehensive editing, macro editing, or even heavy editing. However, the most common alternative is called substantive editing.

But they are all the same.

The role of the professional book editor is to ensure that a book has the best possible structure and story elements.

The book editor will be focusing on the wider issues, not sentence-level problems.

Wikipedia describes developmental editing as "significant structuring or restructuring of a manuscript's discourse".

In reality, editing is a much more involved process.

The professional editor will examine the entire manuscript in the process, considering all aspects of the book, including its narrative and structure. They will also consider readability, plot, and structure.

Some freelance developmental editors will also look out for line-level problems, such as sentence structure, grammar, and punctuation. This is known as line editing. The better editors will assess a book's suitability for the marketplace. They may also help you to pinpoint the book's genre correctly. In addition, the best editors will also consider what is known as a 'sensitivity edit,' where they will 'flag up' any issues in the book that may be considered problematic from the diversity or equality viewpoint.

What is Copy Editing?

Copy editing is the process of removing typos and mistakes from a manuscript.

The book editor will work at a sentence level, making changes to words and punctuation. They will also be looking to apply consistency throughout the novel. They will ensure that the correct approach is applied to each sentence and paragraph.

Copy editors work with style manuals. These are manuals that set out the best practice for how a book should be formatted and structured — the most common examples of style manuals are the Chicago Manual of Style and Associated Press.

The copy edit will produce a manuscript that contains a large number of sentence-level tracked changes and comments. The writer will be expected to look at each of these changes in turn and accept or reject them as they see fit.

Once the copy edit has been completed, the manuscript will nearly be ready for publication.

What is Proofreading?

The final step in answering the question of 'what is editing?' is to consider proofreading.

One word of warning. Many first-time writers will mix up copy editors and proofreaders. They are not the same thing.

A proofreader's role is to ensure that no additional errors have been added to a manuscript once has been converted to either print-ready PDF or digital format.

A proofread will typically happen after a copy edit and once the files have been converted.

It is not uncommon for self-published writers to skip the proofreading stage of the process. This is often merely a matter of budget constraints.

Proofreading is time-consuming, and therefore, not an inexpensive process. It makes no financial sense for writers working on a small budget for a proofread to be completed on a manuscript that has already been copy edited.

However, if budget constraints allow, a proofread is a vital step in catching those final errors before publication.

How Long Does Book Editing Take?

The time is takes to edit a book will depend on several factors:

  • The length of the book.
  • The complexity of the book.
  • The type of book editing.
  • The workload of the editor.

The average size for a novel is 60,000 words. However, this can vary greatly. It is not unusual for some novels to stretch to 100,000 or even 150,000 words.

Therefore, it is a simple calculation, the longer your novel, the longer it will take the book editor to edit.

In addition, the complexity of your book is a factor.

A ‘standard’ contemporary novel, containing just text and with no fact-checking, will take less time to edit than a book with lots of images and stacks of fact checking.

The more complex the book, the longer it takes to edit.

The type of editing is also important. Developmental editing takes the longest amount of time, followed by copy editing and then proofreading.

Good book editors are always busy and there’s a good chance your book will be added to a queue of other titles.

This means that a long, complex novel, edited by a busy developmental editor will take much longer to edit than a simple, short novel, edited by a copy editor.

As a rule of thumb, a typical 60,000 word novel will take about four weeks for a developmental editor to complete.

What Does Book Editing Cost?

The cost of book editing varies.

The price you will pay depends on the following factors:

  • The length of your book.
  • The complexity of your book.
  • The type of editing.

The longer your book, the more you will pay for editing.

Some editors will charge you by the hour, and others by the page count. However, the fairest way to determine cost of editing is by using the book’s initial word count.

The complexity of a book can be a factor in the cost of the edit. It will take editors significantly longer to edit a complex, image heavy ,manuscript than it will to complete a text only novel.

The type of editing is a factor.

Developmental editing is the most intensive and time consuming type of editing and will, therefore, cost the most.

Copy editing and proofreading are less time consuming and should cost less.

It is almost impossible to give an average figure of book editing. However, you should be expecting to pay $1,5000 or more for developmental editing on a 60,000-word novel. This will be a little less for copy editing and proofreading.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are some frequently asked questions that will provide you more information.

Can you self edit a book?

Self-editing is an essential part of the publishing process. However, it is important that you seek a professional edit once the self-edit is complete. When self-editing it is easy to miss major issues such as plot holes and character development. You can find out more about our self-editing checklist here.

What does a book editor do?

A book editor will read your book and provide the feedback needed to prepare your book for publication. A developmental editor focuses on plot, the copy editor focuses on grammar and punctuation and a proofreader focuses on layout issues. You can find a detailed answer to in this article.

Can an editor steal your book?

The short answer to this question is no, an editor will not steal a writer's book. A professional book editor understands that the copyright lies with a writer and taking book written by someone else and pretending it it their own is a criminal offence. Acting in this way would destroy the editor's career and reputation.

How much does an editor change a book?

A good book editor will only change a book in the places that are essential. The amount of changes will depend on the type of editing and the problems that the book editor encounters. It is worth noting that all changes to a book will be done using tracked changes. This means that the writer remains in control and has the power to accept or reject any changes an editor suggests.

Do all books have an editor?

No, all books do not have an editor. All traditionally published book will have undergone several stages of editing and will have had a number of editors. However, some self-published books will not have had an editor. This is mostly due to budget. It is recommended that all book should have had at least a copy editor look at them before publication.

Final Thoughts

Editing is a three-step process, which involves developmental editing, copy editing, and proofreading.

A traditionally published book will go through each of these three stages. In fact, it will often go through the developmental edit and copy-editing stages several times to ensure the manuscript is fully ready for publication. Since there's no specilaist book editing software, Microsoft Word is typically used at each stage.

A self-published book often has tighter budget constraints than a traditionally published book. This means that a self-published book might only use one editing service (though it is advised to use the first two when possible). This editing service is most commonly the copy editing stage, since it will correct the most obvious errors. However, skipping the developmental stage is an error since this produces the largest positive impact on the book's overall quality.

Finding a good match of service and book editor for you and your book is important. Good book editors are busy, and you may have to talk to several book editors until you find the right match, but it will be worth it.

If you want to know more about book editing, you can find out about development editing here or more about deciding which type of editing is best for your book here.