The Stages of Editing

As you know, my acquisition editor at Bethany House had my first book in his possession (probably on his laptop or kindle). After I signed the contract, he then passed my book along to a handful of other talented editors. These editors spent the past few weeks reading and critiquing it.

One of these editors will work with me more closely on the nitty-gritty of editing. So that means I have two primary editors: an acquisitions editor who manages the career aspect of my book (release dates, cover, etc.) and a writing-related editor who oversees the actual editing process.

Similar to any revisions process, in-house editing is done in layers. The first stage is known as developmental edits or rewrites. This is where I'm at. The editors look at the overall themes of my book, character development, plot lines, setting etc. They analyze the big picture and make notes of the major areas that need chiseling away (or in some cases hacked off).

The second layer is line-editing. At this point, the rewrites are completed, the plot works, the characters are strong, chapters are rewritten, scenes cut or added. Now the book is ready for sanding down. Sentence flow, word choices, inconsistencies, POV, etc.--everything is examined and the rough edges are smoothed out.

The final stage of editing is the copy edit. A copy editor takes a detailed look at the book, correcting grammar, typos, and punctuation. She also checks for accuracy and format. This is usually the final edit before the manuscript goes to the typesetter.

I'm at the very first stage, the rewrites. My writing-related editor emailed me and we established a time for our first phone meeting to discuss the big changes I would need to make. Our conversation took place last Tuesday. (If you follow me on Twitter, you've already heard some of my moans and groans!)

Because of the time difference, we had a slight mix-up on the hour of the call. However, I only hung up on my editor once. (I blame it on my new phone! Really!) And I only had to put the phone down one time to keep my noisy boys from killing each other in their rowdy game of tackle football INSIDE--which I don't allow, particularly when I'm on an important phone call. (So much for that movie I stuck in to keep everyone quiet!)

At the beginning of our call, we spent some time getting to know each other. I was amazed to learn that her parents were among the founders of Bethany House Publishers and that she had worked in one capacity or another at Bethany House for most of her adult life. Obviously she has an incredible amount of experience and wisdom which she can bring to our relationship.

After chatting for a bit, she began to give me feedback on my book. I appreciated that she shared the positives first--the things the editors particularly liked about the story and about my writing in general.

Then of course we eventually HAD to discuss their concerns. These were the issues that all of the various editors had noted during their separate readings. They'd met together to discuss the book and to compare notes. And then my editor was delegated to call me and share their "major concerns."

I'll share more of the specifics and my reaction in my next couple of posts. . .

Question for the day: How do you keep your kids quiet while you're on an important phone call?

No, seriously! I love the break down of the editing process into specific layers. It makes so much sense to do the major, big picture revisions first and save the smoothing out for later. So here's the real question: Have you used layers in editing? What works best for you as you do the first major rewrites? I'd love some tips!


  1. As a short story writer, given the low word count, I'm an edit-as-I-go soul, so a completed draft only needs a line edit before submission.

    The phone thing? I had them watch TV and locked myself in the bathroom--a classic I'm sure you've used. My girls are older, so I don't have that problem now, thank goodness.

  2. I'm starting to develop a plan for editing, and I love the idea of doing major rewrites first. My problem in the past has been, I try to do it all at once, but then I get caught up on the line edits (I seriously could edit the same line for probably an joke, it' ridiculous)and lose focus on the overall story.

    Love reading about this stuff! Thanks for sharing it all, Jody! I always get excited for your posts. :)

  3. Wow! Editing a book is an incredible project! At times you must feel quite overwhelmed by it all.

    Haven't had kids running around the house in years but the dog loves to jump up from a sound sleep and begin to bark incessantly when I'm on the phone. Or my cats will come from out of nowhere and begin to rub on the phone and meow. If I lock myself up in my room, the pets gather at the door to paw and "holler" for me. Kids might me easier! LOL!

    Most of my writing is short story so I'm an edit as I go. Put it away. Edit again. Readers edit. I edit. And hopefully it's done.

  4. Wow...I had no idea that there were two editors.

  5. I make important phone calls on Friday. NO kids at home. School and childcare. Oh, bliss.

    Thanks for sharing. I am really interested in what their concerns were and how much a publishing house and their editor is prepared to work with a MS and yet still sign a writer. Very interesting....

  6. My personal editing layers are a bit different.

    My first edit readthrough is for EVERYTHING. I can't skip over spelling/grammar/sentences that don't make sense, but my main focus is the story, what parts are slow, does everything make sense? Making sure I stuck with my timeline and didn't contridict myself. But I'm always looking for the other stuff too.

    Then the goal is to have 2 more read throughs editing my actually writing, finding stupid typos, beefing up descriptions, making sure I'm writing actively not passively.

    But... in all honesty, my first book was such a mess I haven't really been able to follow the above structure (I edited like 30 times and rewrote so many times it wasn't funny), but hope to with this next book.

    As far as kids, I'm mean. They get relegated to their room, and can only come out when I'm done or if someone's bleeding. Either that, or I go outside and close the door, and pray God doesn't allow something to get broken!

  7. Honestly I haven't developed a plan for editing, when I make it through the first draft I call on you for that (lol)! I really enjoy learning about the different stages of publication. It helps eliminate the false presumptions about this journey.

    I love your new title!

  8. I'm much like Becca, in that I edit as I go. Which isn't to say it keeps the manuscript flawless, just that it makes things smoother in the end. But it seems with my edits, I've always gone in and tried to look at everything at once. The layering makes sense! I may try that.

    I surely don't know. A movie's always worked for me! ;)

  9. I'm hoping to finish a draft of my manuscript during the next few weeks, so I'm looking forward to reading more of the comments left here! I also blogged today on a similar topic, whether writers should hire an editor for their manuscript: Thanks for this post, Jody.

  10. I usually have an electronic babysitter called the TV...but it seems to never work when I'm on the phone! UGH

    I'm completely loving these posts by the way. Its so nice to know what happens in this process.

  11. I love these real looks into the process that you're providing!

    And I definitely LOLd at you hanging up on your editor, and the boys knowing just the right time to play tackle football inside!

  12. When I first started writing, I never used outlines. Now I do. I've found them to be so helpful in plotting out my thoughts, character development through the chapters, making all the threads will pan out before actually writing. It really helps me to fine tune, even with smaller, chapter outlines. Good luck!

  13. So much behind the scenes work readers don't know about!

  14. I've been known to run away from my children when I'm on an important call. Run and hide. :D

    Layers. I won't let anyone see my MS until I've gone throught it at least once. Character flow/consistencies are huge with me. Grammar comes last. Paragraphs to knock out, relocate come in the middle. That's not a very clean description of what I do, but I have a whole house to clean.

    I love reading about your journey.
    ~ Wendy

  15. Sesame Street podcasts and use of my iPod usually buy me some silence...

  16. Jody, you tie the kids up to the dining room chairs and use duct tape. :) (JK) I am totally relating to you now. I always love talking to my editors but the added stress of little ones nearby makes it really hard. I might consider finding a sitter and sneaking off to a coffee shop for those really important calls, if you can. As for the real question, I talk to kids in schools about the writing process, and I often liken it to a visual artist and the many layers he/she must move through before the final piece. You mentioned the sculptor -- a very apt comparison as well. Your post also reminds us that writing a book is no solitary experience after all. It can be intimidating, but you really come to see how valuable those extra eyes are. Thankfully, we're not all alone in this! I love the editing process -- it's exhilarating. Especially when you're working with others to refine your work. You are blessed to be at this place!

  17. Layering is a great idea. I'll definitely have to try that. Right now I just try to read through and do both at once. That way I don't forget the flow of the story.

    Have a great day!

  18. I try to put a movie in or make calls when the kids are out. I do know the joy (experience), however, of my 7-year old picking up the phone during an important call.

  19. Isn't it always when you're on the phone....? It's like some kind of mom emergency magnet or let's find destruction mode as soon as that important call comes in. :O)

  20. I am drinking this all in! You are so honest in sharing this and each time I come here I learn more and also feel more relieved that if I ever go through the process I can think of you and that you did it with kids and all:))

  21. I really don't have any good advice for you, not having kids, and just looking forward (?) to my first major draft revision in December. I'm hoping to do just 2 passes on the ms - one for overall plot/character revisions, and one for line edits. That's what I do on short stories, and it seems to work well, but novels are different animals, of course. I figure I'll have enough revisions to make if it gets accepted somewhere.

    But I did want to say thank you for sharing all of this with us! It's very interesting and educational. I wish you luck on your edits!

  22. My kids always choose times when I'm on an important call to be the loudest. WHY?!?!

    I edit in layers too. I do major rewrites first and then read through the whole manuscript and work on fixing flow issues. Then I read through it 100 more times just to make sure everything is right. I'm sure there's a better way to do it :)

  23. My strategy for rewrites is the "one bite at a time" mentality. Taken as a whole, macro-edits can be daunting enough to turn one's stomach and make one question why they ever started this whole writing jaunt in the first place.

    But I've found that if I start at the beginning and follow the revision letter closely, eventually I reach the end of the manuscript/rewrites/macro-edit.

    And so far, I've been really happy with the results!

  24. Although I prefer to work from details to the big picture (that's just the way I think), my editor husband is a big-picture guy. He always deals with the larger issues in the first couple of editing sessions -- conceptual editing, let's call it.

    I am learning to do this. I am learning to think about the big picture and make it work for me. For me, this is growth.

    I think most writers are naturally most comfortable with conceptual or line editing and tend to focus in their area of strength.

  25. Oh, Jody! Your first question - you threaten their lives! Just kidding! I work at home from time to time and I've literally hidden in my bedroom closet behind the clothes to talk to my boss.

    This post is a daunting one! I feel like I'm going through these stages right now after having written a first draft. To think if this book is ever published that I'll go through the exact "layers" again sends all sorts of mixed emotions through me.

    We all know that the novel-writing process is not an easy one. Every writer needs to understand this process and know what a difficult path it really is. Thank you for sharing.

  26. I really wish someone had an answer to that first question of yours. You know, the one about keeping your kids quiet while you're on the phone. Why is it that the second you are on the phone, they start acting up? I've never quite understood that? Now, about your next questions, I do layer my edits. I can't focus on more than one aspect at a time.

  27. As far as the kids thing, it doesn't get easier when they get older. I've had both my twenty-year-old and my sixteen-year-old interrupt a phone conversation and then act surprised that I'm so aggravated. As for the edits? Well, I went through my manuscript several times, and then I hired a freelance editor to go over it. Best money I ever spent.

  28. Reading your posts is like a cliff hanger TV show and I can't wait to tune again and see what happens next. Thanks for teaching us all. I never knew the lengthy process involved so much and so many people as well.

    As for the kids, what worked when mine were small, was a movie, but it had to be new!

  29. Hi, Jody. Those rewrites can be overwhelming at first, can't they? Sometimes, I find that after they have time to sink in, though, I start generating new ideas and end up liking the new version better than the old. Trust that your editors know what they are doing, but don't be afraid to keep a few things the same if they really work better for your story. Take it a step at a time, and you'll get through.


  30. As always, it was interesting learning about your experience. Yeah, I have a problem with noisy kids when I'm on the phone, too. LOL

    Lynnette Labelle

  31. Wow, Jody. This is SO interesting to me. I had NO idea so much was involved in the editing stage of a book.

    And oh, the ominous sounding list of "major concerns". Gulp. Well, at least you're already contracted so they're stuck with you, right? Hee hee!

    When my kids were young and I had an important phone call, I always locked myself in my room, then went into my bathroom and locked that door, too. That's right, double barricaded. A mom's gotta do what a mom's gotta do. *grin*

  32. I love your blog, I always learn something, thanks!
    I'm so close to the finish line - 2 more chapters then my WIP is done... for about a week or so until I start the edits.
    I think I'll read it through and look for consistency, then flush out what needs more, and remove the unnecessary. THEN I'll do the nitty-gritty line edits.

    I only make important calls when J is sleeping :)or @ daycare.

  33. When kids determine you are on an important phonecall, they see it is as a moment of "Mom can't be disturbed, so we can get away with almost anything." It never fails. lol Editing in that way makes perfect sense!

  34. GREAT post Jody! I love how you're sharing all of this with us.
    I think big pic edits are good to do first. However, I'm an anal editor so while I'm reading the story for flow and other stuff, I'm constantly fixing typos, messed up sentences, etc.
    As for keeping kids quiet.. *cringe* Once a nice author called me to talk about my query and my kids weren't playing nicely and I had to hang up. I was SO close to tears. It was horrible.
    I've tried to teach them to be quiet when I'm on the phone, but they're not robots so sometimes they are and sometimes they're not. If there's an important call I do what you did, except I stick my two year old in his booster. LOL Then I give them a snack to eat with the movie.
    You made me laugh about the in-house tackling. My boys are always wrestling each other and I'm scared all the time. In a good mom way, though. LOL
    I can't wait to read your reaction! And also, I'm surprised about the big edits since you hired an editor. INteresting stuff and I'm looking forward to your next post. :-)

  35. I don't have little ones at home anymore, but when I need to avoid interruptions I close myself into my office. When that door is shut my family knows not to open it. They've even given me a little cross-stitched "Do Not Disturb" sign to hang on the doorknob!

    My first run-through is for the big picture, but I can't ignore the obvious typos so I have a packet of those sticky arrows on hand and I hastily red pen the error and mark the page with a sticky for later attention. If I take time to do corrections at that point I lose the flow. When I have the story logistics settled I go through and do the line edits, correcting the original errors plus any new ones my rewrite created. That's when I give it to my beta readers (along with another set of those stickies). So I guess I'm definitely a layers person -- sometimes there are more layers than others, too! I have an awful time knowing when to stop tinkering!

    It's reassuring to see how you're reacting to the process. Thanks for sharing and good luck on the rewriting. May you feel His guidance each step of the way even as I'm sure you did in the initial writing.

  36. I am at the same stage as you. The big rewrites.

    It's been hard when my editor mentions something all of the editors agree on but I don't agree on. Of course I go w/ them. At least my editor seems to be more willing to compromise than one of the other editors. (The other editor wanted to cut two of my characters!)

    I hope your editor 'gets' your book and you.

  37. All I'm thinking of here is the number of read-throughs involved. I'm a slow reader, so when I do a big picture change, and I tend to do only one of them at a time, I end up with dozens of read throughs. It's so time consuming. I'm praying for you, Jody, and looking forward to hearing more about this process.

  38. I'm so thrilled to read about the process and more thrilled that it's happening to a friend! My edits do happen in layers, it only makes sense. I so wish I had a team of experts to consult! There's always tomorrow... ;)

  39. First of all, how is that I wasn't following you on Twitter? Thank goodness I've got that faux pas resolved. Secondly, I'm so deep into editing right now that I can't see straight. The thought of having brilliant, experienced eyes helping with edits is a thrilling prospect. Good for you! I'd love to give you tips, but all I know is, I simply read over and over again until I feel it's "ready." I can't wait to hear more from you as the process unfolds. ;-)

  40. I'm sorry about your kids! Mine have done the same. There's no stopping it. Candy, movies, bribes--doesn't matter!!

    And yes, I do revise in layers. It's too overwhelming to try to fix everything at once.

    Good luck!

  41. I love that approach to editing. I'm terrible about editing while I'm writing. I've really been working on getting it all out of my head as quickly as possible, and THEN going back and editing.

    I laughed out loud about your boys, and I hope that mine will cooperate when those "important" calls start coming!

  42. I usually do the global revisions first (those are the ones that worry me the most when the editor brings them up) and then I do the corrections. Word's Track Changes has made it a lot easier.

    And I'm with you on the phone call thing! I always put the dog in the backyard now and tell the kids that unless they're bleeding profusely or the house is on fire, that they are NOT to bother me!

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  43. Hi Jody -

    The lesson I see in this: No matter how polished your manuscript, there will be more changes. I tend to do all my editing at once.

    Susan :)

  44. Jody:
    Yes, layer editing is best. Keith Drury, a prolific writer, edits his books at least fifteen times before publication!!! He focuses on a different factor each time around. Some edits take days, others only hours. His book "A Breief Guide for Writers" is an excellent tool. Like you have time to read! HA!

  45. My writing process usually involves quite a bit of layering. I'm bad about editing as I go. As for the kids...I'll probably have to send mine off to mom's if needed for serious phone call time. Whenever I get on the phone, there's an invisible magnet that pulls everyone over to try to talk to me. ;) Good luck with your edits!

  46. I'm not quite there yet (still a baby writer), but reading your blog helps me so much. Thanks Jody!


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