Editing Defined: Stages of Editing Explained

It’s May 1, 2019.

Time to start a new production cycle on the 85K Writing Challenge: the 60-Day Edit. Our countdown clock (see right sidebar) is set for sixty days, expiring at midnight on June 30. It’s time to edit the 85,000-word novel you wrote during the 90-Day Write.

Our year thus far:

IMAGE: 90-Day Write cycle logo.IMAGE: Black arrow pointing to the right IMAGE: 30-Day Finish Logo

What’s happening now:

85k_60dayedit_logo_master_v102016IMAGE: Black arrow pointing to the right IMAGE: 30-Day Finish Logo

Pencils ready? Let’s do this thing.

IMAGE: blue clock and red coffee mug
Wish me luck! I #amediting my novel during the 85K Writing Challenge 60-Day Edit. #85K90 Click To Tweet

What’s in store for the coming sixty days during the 60-Day Edit?

It depends.

Writers on the 85K90 will engage in a variety of editing and revising tasks depending on the needs of their particular project. Every writer is strongly advised to work with a professional editor before submitting their work to agents, publishing houses, and/or readers.

Stages of Editing Explained

Typically speaking, manuscripts move through these very different types of professional editing before reaching the reader:

Developmental Editing

Think of developmental editing as “big picture” editing that shapes broad, “sweeping” issues like story structure, plot, and character development. During this stage, chapters or events are often rearranged, storylines are developed, and characters undergo further examination. In some cases, minor characters (and subplots that lead nowhere) are cut. Often, words need to be cut to produce a book within the framework of reader expectation and genre guidelines.
A developmental editor is a specific type of editor. They typically do not complete extensive line by line manuscript editing (also called copy editing or line editing and explained below) because the novel is about to undergo developmental changes – which tend to be “big” in scope and therefore requires a lot of revising, moving things around, and rewriting. So it doesn’t quite make sense to correct every single punctuation mark at this point, because whole sentences may change in the rewrite.

Manuscript Editing (also called copy editing or line editing)

Think of manuscript editing as “small detail” editing that hunts down missing commas and corrects typos.

Manuscript editing can include both mechanical editing, the consistent application of a particular style. By style, I am referring to the rules governing grammar, syntax, and usage, as established by a respected style guide. For example, in the United States, the publishing industry uses The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed. as its style guide, and Chicago recommends Webster’s Third New International Dictionary and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary as supporting dictionaries. Manuscript editing may also include substantive editing, which can involve rewriting what the author wrote to improve the overall quality of the writing. If your manuscript requires substantive editing, expect to pay more for those services.

The copy/line editor that conducts the manuscript edit, serves a different function than the developmental editor explained above. Because the skill set used in a developmental edit versus a line-by-line manuscript edit is so different, oftentimes, but not always, these tasks are conducted by two separate people.

Editing at the manuscript level typically follows these steps:

  1. An initial “thorough” editing of the total project is conducted to ensure every little detail in the document is rendered with the correct grammar, syntax, and usage, as established by the publishing industry’s accepted style guide. This initial, thorough editing often includes “cleaning up” the document to ensure consistency in formatting, chapter headings, page numbering, front and back matter, and the like. It can also include fact-checking, but typically speaking, the responsibility for the accuracy of the work rests with the author.
  2. A careful, continuous read-through (starting on page one, then reading straight through the manuscript, page by page) is then conducted to review and refine the editing completed during the first wave of manuscript editing just described (the initial manuscript editing that corrects grammar, syntax, and usage as well as clean up).
  3. The edited manuscript is then submitted to the author for their edit and review, often with a letter addressing any key issues or questions.
  4. A final, final edit is completed once the author has addressed any queries to ensure no “new” errors were introduced by the author. The manuscript is then sent to the formatter to be converted into its final form.


Once the manuscript is returned from the formatter and has been converted into its final form (typeset and ready for publication), a proofreader reads the text to confirm no errors were inadvertently entered during the formatting, all final corrections and edits are made, and no new or undiscovered errors are present. Note: the formatter and the proofreader must check for accuracy across all reading media – not just hardback or paperback versions of the novel but electronic devices as well.

Whew! That’s a lot of editing.

Stages of Editing. Explained in this 85K Writing Challenge post. #85K90 Click To Tweet

Most novels written during the 90-Day Write are probably not ready for a professional editor just yet.

I suspect the majority of writers on the 85K will be revising what they wrote during the 90-Day Write. After sixty days of careful revisions during the 60-Day Edit (remember, we wrote those 85,000 words quickly – they probably need a little fine-tuning!) THEN it’s probably time to engage in professional editing.

If you’ve never done this before, it might look something like this . . .

You will revise, engage beta readers or a developmental editor, revise some more, return the manuscript to the beta readers or a developmental editor, and then revise some more before sending the manuscript off for a copy/line edit. Eventually, after working through one or more copy/line edits, it’ll be formatted and proofread and ready for publication.

If you are submitting to agents, submit the manuscript after the developmental edit and line edit are performed, but it is not necessary at this point to format the novel for different reading devices, as you will most likely undergo more revisions and editing once the manuscript has been sold to a publisher.

Editors are busy, often behind schedule, and typically require advance scheduling to place you in their queue.

Because reading and editing take time and because editors are notoriously busy and behind schedule, you shouldn’t expect to engage the services of a freelance developmental editor AND a freelance manuscript (copy/line) editor AND complete all of your revisions – during the sixty days of the 60-Day Edit cycle. It’s possible, but that’s like, crazy fast, and probably requires a highly polished 85,000 words to begin with (something many of us do not have after writing a first draft in three short months).

How are you going to get everything done?!?

Remember, in July, we move into a 30-Day Finish cycle. Perfect time to send the manuscript you edited and revised during May and June to a freelance editor. (By freelance, I mean an editor that is not employed by a publishing house. Editors at a publishing house only work on novels the publishing house has agreed to publish.)

After July, we move into the 60-Day Prep cycle where we prep ourselves, our manuscripts, our marketing plans, our social media platforms, etc., in advance of publication. Certainly, it’s wise to assume you may still be prepping portions of your manuscript during August and September’s 60-Day Prep cycle. For instance, if you are indie publishing, you may be formatting your novel across different devices while running a preorder sales campaign. If you are seeking traditional publishing, you may be wrapping up the final edits and packaging your submission materials during the 60-Day Prep cycle.

In the end, how you spend your time during the 60-Day Edit is up to you and depends on the needs of your particular novel. But don’t feel overwhelmed if you can’t get it ALL done in sixty short days. Take one step every day and you’ll be sixty steps closer to reaching your goals. And remember, we all work at different speeds and have different demands placed on us in our daily lives outside of writing. Be kind to yourself.

Take a step every day during the 60-Day Edit on the #85K90 and you'll be sixty steps closer to reaching your goals. #amediting Click To Tweet

What’s important right now, during this first week of the 60-Day Edit, is that you take a moment to do a little goal setting.

  • What do you plan to accomplish during the 60-Day Edit?
  • What does your manuscript need?
  • How are you going to schedule these tasks for completion before June 30?
  • What tasks will remain after June 30 and how will you complete them?
  • Do you have or do you need people and/or resources to help you achieve your goals? If yes, make a list so you can schedule them and move forward when the timing is right for you.

Julie Valerie

It’s May 1.
The start of the 60-Day Edit.

Pencils ready? Let’s do this thing.

– Julie Valerie

Portions of the above content were originally featured in a May 2017 blog post.

Julie Valerie

Julie Valerie

85K Writing Challenge: Embracing the writing life by advancing the practice of productive writing from the first word to the first reader.

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