Once you’ve done the hard part and actually written your book, now you get to move on to the harder part: editing. There are a variety of types of editing, including self-editing or hiring a professional freelance editor.
This post is going to go through the different types of edits, and then how to begin self-editing, and where to find professional editors. It's a long one, but an important one. Take this one slowly, and go at your own pace!
Unless you're some genius prodigy writer that can write a perfect first draft and immediately publish it with NO changes, you're going to have to go through some form of editing. There's nothing that reviewers will target more than a poorly written book. It's HARSH. You've got to edit your book, multiple times. Please.
If you have the money, hire someone.
There are three types of editing to consider, even if you're not planning to hire someone later on. Before we get into the self-editing process, let's talk about the three types of editing.
Typically you do complete them in the order listed. Meaning, you’ll do developmental edits first, then a round of line and/or copy, and then your final proofreading. But what do these even mean… Let’s go through them.
Developmental edits, also called content editing, are an in-depth review of your entire manuscript and is designed to focus on the big picture elements of your story, like plot line, pacing, character development, world building, and structure.
These types of edits are going to result in the biggest changes to your manuscript. Often, developmental edits tell you where you need to focus more on (expanding scenes) and where you’re focusing too much on (cutting scenes). For this reason, development editing should always be done first.
As part of developmental edits, you’re going to get a lot of feedback, especially if you’re a newer author. That’s okay! This step is vital, and if you can only afford one type of editing, I do recommend splurging on this one. It will ensure that you have a solid story.
We’ll have another blog post coming soon about how to accept and use feedback, but for this post, I’m just going to say: taking feedback is hard, take off your protective writer hat and put on your open-minded editing hat.
Line editing, sometimes also called copy editing, is the next “round” of editing that occurs. This is much more detailed and involves looking for grammar issues, consistency, word choice, sentence structure, and aspects like that.
This type of editing will tell you that your character’s eye color changed somewhere in the book, while developmental editing tells you that you never described your character’s appearance at all.
Line editors are highly skilled in language, grammar, and spelling, and this is their main focus. You may not see a lot of changes here, or you may see a ton, it really depends on your writing style and your editors editing style.
Some things line or copy editing might catch include:
Repetitive sentence structure
Incorrect dialogue formatting or structure
Rearranging sentence order to clarify
Changes in word choice
Basic fact-checking for spelling or historical dates
Correcting passive voice
Errors in grammar or punctuation
Switches in tenses (first person v. third, or present v. past)
And so much more!
Proofreading is the last round of edits you should do, and it should be done after all changes you can ever make have been made. This round of edits goes through your manuscript with a fine-tooth comb and looks for spelling errors, punctuation issues, grammar, awkward spacing, things in the wrong font, or other small details like that.
In such a competitive writing market, proofreading can often be make or break for your book’s success. You want everything to be spelled correctly, or that’s often the only thing that will get talked about by readers.
Proofreading is best done after you’ve formatted so you can see any awkward spacing and any errors in the formatting itself.
When doing proofreading, either DIY or paid, you want someone who is meticulous and nit-picky. Trust me, their attention to detail is a good thing.
Okay, now that we've covered the types of editing, let's talk about self-editing, which needs to happen no matter how you end up editing. Even if you're planning to hire someone, you're going to want to go through your book at least once before you give it to them.
Recommended Self-Editing Process:
Take a break. Let the manuscript sit. 2-4 weeks is ideal, but a few days or a week is fine if you're on a deadline (though try to build your timeline super spaced out, especially for your first book. Take your TIME.)
Now that you've got fresh eyes, open up your document. First things first, change the font. If you wrote in Times New Roman, change your entire document to Arial. If you can stand it, Comic Sans is really helpful (I know, I KNOW, just try it) to take yourself out of "oh yeah I know what that means, it's fine" and forces you to actually read your own words.
Read through it all. Take notes on what you like, what you don't like. You can either take notes on a separate document, or inline in the document itself, that's up to you. I take notes by hand for my first read through, personally.
After you've read through it once, organize your notes and decide how you plan to attack changes. You can either go chronologically, starting at chapter 1 and ending at the last line, or you can tackle it by how big of a change it is. I work chronologically, but that's just how my brain works. If you've never done either, I recommend trying both at some point and see which you prefer.
Make your changes. Again, you want to TAKE YOUR TIME. Especially if this is your first book, but even if it's your fifth. The better your writing is, the better received your book will be. It's time to be ruthless and put on your critical reader hat. Who wrote this?? Not you.
Let it sit for at least a day. Then read through it again. Are there still sticky spots that don't flow or you don't like? Go through the process again.
I highly recommend saving versions of your book as different files. I have my first draft be version 1, and then with each round of changes I make, it gets saved as a new version. That way, if you decide, no you actually like how it was at first, you don't have to re-write it.
If you're not planning on hiring a professional editor, you will go through this process as many times as you need for your "Developmental" editing stage. Once you're happy with the book, then you can move on to line editing. For this, I recommend printing your manuscript and literally going through it with a red pen (or whatever color you prefer, I use pink). Again, this is about changing your eyes so you don't skip over things because you're used to seeing them. If you can't print, change the font again.
Beta readers are a good idea at this stage (either after your first round of line edits, or before, up to you). You can post a call on your social media if you have a presence already, or you can search in writer forums, on Fiverr, on Facebook, etc. to find people who beta read in your genre. If you do get/hire beta readers, be specific about the feedback you're looking for. Here is a good post about what to look for in beta readers and what to ask them.
After you're done with developmental, done with line editing, you're happy with your book, it's time to proofread for those pesky little spelling, punctuation, and grammar issues. Here's a nifty tip I've got for that. Change the font (again, I know, I know), and then GO BACKWARDS. Start from the last sentence of your book and work your way to the first sentence (obviously, read the sentence start to finish, but read the last sentence first, etc. etc.). This will force your brain out of "I'm reading a story" mode and help you see the typos and spelling mistakes and missing periods and extra spaces. It's really helpful.
If you are planning to hire a freelance editor (which I highly recommend), keep reading!
Typically, you would hire someone for developmental edits, and then someone else for line/copy edits, and then someone else different for proofreading. This ensures that there are more than just two sets of eyes on your work and that nothing gets missed. However, you can hire the same person or company for all three types of editing. (I hire the same person for developmental and line, and then a separate proofreader)
When looking for a paid editor, do your research! I cannot stress this enough. It is easy to get scammed, or to get someone who just does a crappy job or doesn't know your genre. You've got to be diligent and prepared.
Things to Consider in Hiring a Freelance Editor:
Get a sample edit. If they don’t offer a sample edit, don’t work with them. End of story. You need to know their editing style and if it 1) matches how you prefer to receive feedback and 2) makes sense with the context of your book.
Research editors specific to your genre. You wouldn’t want an editor who mainly does children’s picture books to edit your high fantasy novel. Match up with the right editor.
Get references. If they don’t have a client testimonial page on their website, ask them if there are past clients you can speak to about their experiences, and then speak to those past clients.
Ask about pricing. If it seems dirt cheap, there’s probably a reason. Similarly, if their pricing is outrageously expensive, that might be a red flag. The Editorial Freelance Association has a super helpful chart for industry standard pricing for various types of editing available here. Editing is expensive though, so if you try to cut corners and go with someone super cheap or someone new and lacking reputation, know that risk going in.
Clarify expectations. Ask your editor what their editing process is like. Will they only go through it once? Twice? How do they provide feedback? Will they answer questions after the edit is done?
And please, don’t just go with the first editor you find. Best practice is to find 3 or so that you like, and then go through the above with them and narrow it down to the one that fits best with you. You’re trusting your word baby to them, there needs to be a good relationship.
Finally, for paid editing, you need to sign a contract. If for some reason the editor does not have you sign a contract, you need to have them sign one. This protects both of you, lays out the expectations for work done and what will be delivered, and timelines. It may seem harsh, but it’s not. If you need some ideas for what to include in a contract, check out here and here for some details.
Okay, where can you even find a freelance editor?? Do you just randomly search the internet and hope to find a good one? Well, you can, but there's better ways. Here's some ways to find a professional editor:
Other editorial professional associations
Search on Instagram (or TikTok, but I've found all of my editors through Instagram by searching "fiction editor")
Ask other authors in your genre who they used (word of mouth is really really really good)
I also have some recommendations for you (because word of mouth is really really really good):
Earley Editing LLC
Enchanted Author Services
Novel and Noted
Corbeaux Editorial Services
The most important part of this is vetting the editors you do find. Take your time to find the best fit for you. Your personalities need to mesh and you need to click with your editor. This is going to be a big investment, so take your time to make sure the editor you choose is the best on for you and your book.
If this is too big of an expense, you can always self-edit and the once money starts coming in, re-edit with a professional and release a new edition. Additionally, most editors will offer payment plans too. Take advantage of them! If they're not advertised, it can't hurt to ask.
Overall, I know this was a massive post, but editing is one of the two things (other than your actual story) that will make or break your book's success. The other is covers, which we'll talk about in another post.
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers
Revision and Self-Editing for Publication
The Little Book of Self-Editing for Writers