Slicing and Dicing (or what writers grudgingly call “Book Editing”)

Devour a Book

While contemplating and writing about my 7 New Year Revelations,  I’ve been trying not to think about the redlining, scratchy margin comments, strikethroughs and all the nasty little markings that a few no-nonsense editors are doing to my manuscript. 

As any writer will attest, it’s important to give your completed manuscript a thorough and objective (that’s the hard part) edit yourself first, but then you must hand it over to an editor who will have no qualms about ripping it to shreds,  if need be.   As a person who uses the numbers 3 and 7 all the time (it’s a spiritual thing, perhaps even a bit O.C.D.),  I always like to choose 3 editors (a professional editor, a person who has personal  experience with the subject, and a scholar/professional who is a specialist on the subject).  This gives me a nice cross-section of expertise from people whose commentary I respect and will take to heart, when producing the final copy for publication.  

I give them a timeframe and my own set of  guidelines (for them to keep in mind, while editing)  …  with the expectation that, on the end date, I will receive all their edits and comments. Some prefer to edit on a hard copy manuscript, others edit on my PDF  text. I usually give them three weeks , although it may extend further – depending upon the length of the manuscript.

My manuscript-specific  “guidelines”  vary from book to book. These include a list of questions or points that relate to specific characters or story lines that I want to receive objective feedback on.

However,  the general guidelines simply follow the standard editing process which, in turn, involves multiple read-throughs or “passes.”

1. First Pass:       A READ-THROUGH  (no editing)

It’s important for the editor to get a feel for the book first, before grabbing that red pencil!


This is the heavy, line editing phase. Sentence structure, grammar, spelling and punctuation are all addressed here.  At this stage, the editor will also look at whether the book  reads  well and whether  or not a story, character, or setting may need readjustment.

3. Third Pass —  CONTENT  EDITING

This may include substantive editing (above) but focuses on the quality of the writing, the use of words, and the strength/continuity of the author’s voice.  The content editing process points its high beam on clarity and conciseness.  This is where a lot of the dreaded snippity-snip-snip comes into play. Conciseness …  the bane of my existence.

4. Fourth Pass —  COPY  EDITING

Once more, punctuation and grammar are reviewed, as well as whether or not the use of words and tense is consistent throughout the manuscript. The copy editing process serves to catch any minor or major mistakes and whether or not the perceived errors were intentional (i.e. stylistic) or not.

5. Fifth Pass —  PROOFREADING*

A final review of  grammar, punctuation and spelling. This is the polishing stage.

*CAVEAT:  Once the writer incorporates all the edits into the final manuscript, the writer must (himself/herself) do another round of proofreading — it is very important to do this carefully. Hasty proofreading will result in unwanted errors.  In the world of home renovation, the do-it-yourself folks are told, time and time again, “measure twice, cut once.”  Well, the same applies in the writing world.  Proofread, proofread, and proofread again!

Furthermore, if the writer is self-publishing, it is important to do yet another round of proofreading upon receiving the printer’s proofs (always request  to have a sign-off on the printer’s proof, prior to printing).  This is not only important for catching any errors within the text, but also to ensure that the formatting and graphics are perfect. Similarly, if using a company like CreateSpace or to publish the book, follow the same proofing/sign-off procedure as with the printer. 

By the 21st, I should be receiving all of my edits back, for my manuscript (Casualties of the Recession Depression) — redlines, scratchy margin comments, strikethroughs and nasty little markings.

I can hardly wait.


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5 thoughts on “Slicing and Dicing (or what writers grudgingly call “Book Editing”)

  1. Heather, the devil is always in the details, as they say! It’s also nice to be able to take breaks from the work in between the edits – that way, you come back it with a fresh perspective and more flexible approach… j

    • You are right, Jane, about the fresh perspective and flexible approach. However, in the meantime, I’m doing a lot of pacing back and forth … trying very hard to put my New Year Revelation No. 4 (Patience) to good use!

  2. Pingback: Raising the “Quality Bar” of Your Writing « Julie Catherine

  3. Wonderful article, Heather. I concentrated on just the spelling/grammar/punctuation basics in my article this time, because it’s such a huge pet peeve of mine when I’m reading – especially self-published work. I do plan to cover other aspects in other articles in the future. Very well written and you’ve given some great advice here. ~ Julie 🙂

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