Hello, writers. So I'm still stuck in the throes of revision. But chipping away now at the Revisers' Block. It's got me thinking about the four stages of editing that a manuscript goes through (hopefully, anyway) at a publishing house, and how they're a pretty good guide to the revision process whether you have an editor or not. They're steps you should go through before you submit a manuscript to an agent or publisher.

(If you're self-publishing and thinking of hiring an editor, it's also useful to talk to him or her about these stages to find out just what you'll be getting for your money.)

Anyway, these are the stages.

1. Content editing
2. Line editing
3. Copy editing
4. Proofreading

Content editing can involve major overhauls. An editor may point out that a character doesn't seem very well developed, that a relationship isn't believable, that a plot point seems to come out of nowhere without any buildup. GussieFN's rule is that editors are usually wrong when they tell you how to fix these content problems, but always right when they say that the problem needs to be fixed.

Content editing can mean cutting scenes, and even whole chapters, because they don't advance the plot. Even if the chapters contain the greatest three lines of dialogue ever written.

Even if you're doing the actual content editing yourself, it's important to have another set of eyes on the manuscript.  Beta readers or a critique partner can often tell you what's not working, although of course making it work is up to you.

 Line editing should come after content editing, at least in your personal, at-home revision process, since there's not much point in editing lines that may be deleted. Line editing may include rewriting sentences where it's perfectly clear to you what you mean, but very unclear to the reader. (This tends to happen particularly when we writer types are being Subtle.) It may include making dialogue snappier, or descriptions describier. It may also include making sure your voice is consistent.

The line editing stage is where I try to remove every unnecessary word.

Content editing and line editing are sometimes combined to save time. An editor (or a critique partner or beta reader) may read only once but make comments related to both kinds of edits. But you're still better off taking care of the content edits first when you revise.

Copy editing in a large publishing house is done by in-house and freelance copyeditors. Usually two or more copyeditors read a manuscript.

Their job is to query absolutely everything: grammar, punctuation, word usage, spelling, colloquialisms, and facts. This can be a bit upsetting the first (and second, and third) time you encounter it, because it looks like you're being told you're wrong four or five times on each page. In fact, the marks all over the page aren't corrections. They're “queries.” It's up to you to decide whether a change needs to be made. A query I remember from my first novel was

Confirm that pomegranates really grow in Barbados?
They do, so I made a checkmark, which is what you do.

Another favorite copyeditor comment which I quote all the time is
Could not have changed trains in Blacksburg in 1920. Lexington is possible.The copyeditor had checked a 1920 timetable, something I should have done myself, of course.

It's the copyeditor's job to question everything, and yours to decide whether to make a change.

Proofreading is a final search for typos. It's essential no matter what you're doing-- submitting a manuscript to an agent, preparing a book to self-publish, or looking over the proof (the post-copyediting text) sent to you by your publisher. Things that often get turned up at this stage: missing punctuation, missing italics, missing letters (especially “s”), missing “a” and “the”. I have also seen (once each) a repeated paragraph and a paragraph cut off in the middle, which are hard to catch because by this point everyone's eyes are glazing over.

My apologies if yours are.

Anyway, if your New Year's resolutions include finding an agent or entering the amazon contest or even self-publishing, do make sure you've gone through all four of the above steps first... and gotten at least one other set of eyes on the first two.

Tonight's challenge:

Below is a passage where it's not really clear what's happening. Rewrite it so that it is.

(In the spirit of revision, you are free to change as much as you like, up to and including Everything.)

The alligator plopped onto the floor. Dismay was the overwhelming emotion. Things could have gone better. It was raining, and they were out of cherry syrup. The victims huddled in the corner and muttered to each other. If only it were Thursday.

Finally, a decision was reached.

From outside came a dismal quacking.


Write On! will be a regular weekly diary (Thurs 8 pm ET) until it isn't.
Before signing a contract with any agent or publisher, please be sure to check them out on Preditors and Editors, Absolute Write and/or Writer Beware.
Your Email has been sent.