Relax. This Won’t Hurt a Bit.

I love what I do so much that I sometimes forget the person whose publisher just informed him I’ll be his editor may not know what to expect. May be a little apprehensive. (One of “my” authors even blogged about it here.) I forget that while I’m excited about having a new puzzle to solve, he may be a little nervous about the process.

So here’s what I tell him. (Note that this is my procedure with publishers’ assignments. Clients I contract with myself have a variety of editorial options from which to choose, not all of which work exactly like this.)

It’ll be a two-step process. First, I’ll read the book. And I’ll think about it a lot. I’ll make notes as I read, both in a separate document and also as comments within the manuscript itself. I’ll track all the characters and the timeline (among many other things). I’ll write up my separate notes in a memo to you; this is the developmental edit part. These notes will tell you what’s working and also what I think might not be working as well. I may play the role of devil’s advocate. There may be plot issues or pacing issues or continuity issues. Perhaps we need to work on organization, or maybe we need to do some wordsmithing for clarity. … We just won’t know ’til we wade in. Sometimes there’ll be a lot of notes, sometimes not so much.

I’ll read the manuscript at least twice and be back and forth in it a lot as I write up the notes.

That’s the first month of the process. During the second month, you’ll review the notes, take a look at the suggestions, rewrite as you see fit. You won’t worry about typos you find as you reread the book and wonder what I was doing that first month—because my first read isn’t about wordsmithing or copyediting. It’s strictly big-picture stuff. As you make changes to the manuscript, you will use TRACK CHANGES (as I will have done). You’ll make answering comments to my comments, or ask questions. Then you’ll send it back to me.

At this point, we’re no more than two months into the process. I’ll read the manuscript again. And while I’m doing it, I’ll be doing a complete, thorough copyedit. This often reveals things I missed the first time, but they won’t be big things. The copyedit is done to conform to the Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition, and Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition. There are a myriad of conventions (spelling out numbers, using the Oxford comma, and so on) that you needn’t worry about, but which will make your manuscript consistent with publishing standards in the US and will, simply, make it more professional. As I copyedit, I build a style guide, which will include those conventions that I used and a word list, confirming the spelling of any word I looked up (and there will be lots). This style guide will answer questions that may arise as you read the manuscript later, and will be given to proofreaders after the pages are poured.

Note that on occasion I will explain in a comment why I made a particular change, but I will not do it every time. There’s just not enough time to explain every edit. :) However, don’t hesitate to ask (via a comment in the manuscript) if you have any questions.

I’m not going to rewrite vast swaths of your book; that’s your job. I will tweak some sentences or paragraphs or words … but I’m actually pretty good at that and I think you’ll be pleased.

So then I send the copyedit back to you. You’ll go through it, respond to comments, and you’ll accept my edits using track changes. (If you don’t like them, that’s fine; you can put them back. But accept them first, so I can easily see what you didn’t like. This keeps a nice clean manuscript too. When I get the manuscript back from you, I’ll accept your changes before I make any of my own.)

Once this process is done, we’ll probably throw the manuscript back and forth a few more times. There will be fewer and fewer edits to review each time.

And then we’ll be done.

It should be noted that this is an “ideal” 90-day schedule. I have done it in less time. Oh, yes, I have. :)

It should also be noted that some publishers only hire me to produce the editorial notes; someone else will do the copyedit. Sometimes I see things in the first read and think I’ll just fix that in the copyedit and don’t even bring it up. But when I’m only doing the notes, each and every little thing must be discussed.

Finally, it should be noted that I have no idea how other editors do it, although I suspect it’s somewhat similar to this. Again, I’ve developed some simpler—thus less expensive—processes for authors I work with directly, so the material above may not apply to your project.

Have I demystified the process? Holler at me if you have questions.

Tweet: When your publisher pairs you with an editor, this is what happens.
Tweet: Nervous about meeting your assigned editor? Relax!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in Your Editor Says … | Tagged as: , , , , , , | Bookmark the permalink | Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.


  1. Michelle Ule says:

    Did you tell ME this? :-)

    Honestly, I don’t know how you get anything else done . . . but you did a great job on my novella. Thanks!

    • jamiechavez says:

      Ha! Michelle, we had so little time all the niceties fell by the wayside. How lucky I was that you just “went there” with me! It was a JOY to work on your novella.

  2. At least you’ve made it sound friendly. That’s a big help! We do tend to forget that we’re both human and really want to do a god job for both parties.

    • jamiechavez says:

      Thank you. :) I’m always surprised when I come across an author who expects (expects!) an adversarial relationship with his/her editor. That is SO not my idea of a good time!

  3. TNeal says:

    I live with an excellent editor who follows a similar process. Ellen reads the manuscript thru twice or more, make notes as she reads, copy edits (more if it’s her part of the job, less if not) and, when done, sends the corrections either to the author or the publisher (depends on the publisher’s policies dealing with authors and editors). The 90-day timeline seems like a convenience rather than the norm for Ellen.

    I want to note that Ellen edited five books up for awards at the recent ACFW conference in St. Louis. All five won in their categories. She’s good at what she does.

    Thanks, Jamie, for sharing your experience as a freelancer. Always a pleasure to read your posts.

  4. Awesome, Jamie! Thanks for sharing that.

  5. Marie says:

    Hi Jamie. I just wanted to drop you a line and tell you how much your blog — and this post in particular — has helped me in my career (I’m a freelance copyeditor, developmental editor, and acquisitions editor). Thank you so much!