Editing! Some love it, others despise it – every author is different. But every author must engage in editing at some point, whether they are editing their own work or working with an editor to get the job done. Regardless of which route you take, it’s important to get some foundational editing knowledge before you begin.

Remember, however, that editing is, like writing, an art. It is incredibly difficult to learn or be taught how to edit. Editing skills come from a myriad of places and experiences, but mostly, they stem from having two key traits: a broad and sustained appetite for reading, and an eye for how a story comes together or is structured.

If you find yourself getting frustrated with the editing process, or you feel as if you don’t have the editorial eye you need, consider hiring a freelance editor to work with you. Trust me – you’ll thank yourself later, as your book will be vastly improved overall, and the stress of working directly with the content again, after such a lengthy period writing it, will be relieved. An editor’s work is to make your story the very best it can be, structurally – so letting them take the reins while you are there to approve or negotiate suggested changes is ideal.

Here is a basic breakdown of the editorial process when editing yourself or when working with an editor:

  1. Review major plot points
  2. Edit for continuity
  3. Review your details
  4. Edit dialogue
  5. Copyediting
  6. Proofreading
  7. Final “cold read”

These seven steps are extremely general, and every individual editor and author work a little differently. Read on for a more comprehensive breakdown of the editing process.

  1. Reviewing major plot points – once the first draft is complete, it must be read. The editor – either your hired editor or yourself – will reread the draft and make note of the basic structure of the plot, including major moments of action, the climax, and any resolutions that occur. Sometimes, these points are noted in point form, or an editor may write a summary, or even create a graph that shows the peaks and valleys of your plot.
  2. Edit for continuity – once the plot has been mapped out, an editor can go in make note of any mistakes in continuity. If you’re following a set timeline – say, all of the events in the book happen over the course of a week, for example – it’s important to keep that in order so the reader doesn’t get lost. Marking errors in continuity is the next big step to a more structurally sound novel.
  3. Next, it’s time to review details. Often, mistakes in content are noticed during the continuity check, but this can be a more involved process if you have written, say, a fantasy epic. Making sure the content is in order is important. Look for any character contradictions, world-building errors, or other details that may pull the reader from the text. If you notice it, it’s almost certain your readers will, too!
  4. Up until this point, it’s important to have ignored editing dialogue and internal dialogue. That is a task of its own. Now that the content has been reviewed, look at the dialogue. Make sure character voices stay consistent, and that the dialogue is not pure fluff, i.e., that it is helping to convey information about the story, the characters involved, and is ultimately progressing the narrative. A trick that many authors still use is to read the dialogue aloud: if it sounds awkward, it is awkward!
  5. Now it’s time to copyedit. This is where an editor – or a specific copyeditor – goes in and marks up any obvious errors, such as grammar, spelling, some continuity issues, etc., and returns this mark-up to you for approval. This stage is perhaps one of the most important, as it neatly ties up and validates all of the editing work that has been done so far.
  6. After a copyedit or two, it goes to a proof-reader. Proofreading is also incredibly important. Here, the proof-reader keeps an eye on any details the copyeditor may have missed, and they also take a look at the format of the book, too, paying close attention to chapter headings, spacing, fonts used, and so on. Proof-readers help you make your book look the best it can, without too much focus on the content therein.
  7. Lastly, the book completes one final cold-read. It is approached as if you are a reader, reading this book for the first time. Are there any more issues that arise with the content? Any spelling errors overlooked? Read the book as if you just picked it up off a shelf: as a reader, would anything glaring stand out to you? For this stage, it is best to have one or more beta readers, or to step away from your book for some time before picking it up again so you have a clearer vision of its contents.

How do you edit? Do you have fewer or even more steps in the process than we outlined here? Have you had success editing alone – or do you work with a professional editor? No matter how you edit, we hope that this was helpful. Happy editing from the KWL team!

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