The Manuscript Editing Process: An Overview
Updated: Aug 8
Being an independent author comes with its challenges. You've finished writing your manuscript; maybe you even typed the words "the end" to close the proverbial book on the project. Now what?
Understanding when and what type of editing, let alone what type of editor, is needed at every stage of your manuscript is critical to avoiding frustration and giving your work the best chance at success in the market. But with all the varying types of editing available, knowing when and how to start your editing and revision journey can feel just as daunting as finishing the manuscript may have seemed from the moment you wrote your first sentence.
I'm here to share some positive news. The first step in editing is you!
The Alpha Edit
After completing your first draft, it is a good idea to walk away from your manuscript for several days. Once you have returned to your manuscript refreshed, turn off your writing brain and switch on your editorial one.
Alpha editing is not optional. It is critical and a part of being a writer. You begin your alpha edit, or self-edit, by stepping into the shoes of your reader to examine how they may read and interpret the world you've built for the characters living in it. Alpha editing your manuscript should include structural changes, like deleting or rewriting whole sections, moving chapters, changing the point of view or narrator, and reorganizing the story. Do your best to identify all the major corrections and improvements needed, fix those not-quite-right words and phrases, and address the points of your manuscript that keep you up at night.
Tips for alpha editing:
Don't spend too much time on a single passage or phrase. Highlight it for the next review. And yes, there will be another editorial review before your manuscript is publication-ready.
Don't get discouraged with the process. Know that authors often alpha edit multiple revisions of their stories. Some spend weeks performing alpha edits on their manuscripts only to learn from their beta readers that more needs to be done before the story is truly ready for readers.
Remember, the story development process requires the turtle's patience rather than the hare's speed.
Rather than relying on ego-boosting feedback from friends and family, it's a good idea to request the assistance of beta readers with keen eyes for good writing and who have similar tastes or genre preferences to your target audience. Gaining helpful input from outside perspectives will help you identify areas for improvement that may have been impossible to locate on your own simply because you are too close to your story.
Once you have received feedback from all beta readers (I recommend at least three different readers for well-rounded feedback), take time to read their suggestions and decide what to do. Then, perform another round of alpha edits, taking into account all the feedback you heard from your beta readers.
If you are the kind of writer determined to alpha-edit your work until it is as clean and polished as you can make it, hiring an editor to perform a manuscript appraisal may be a good idea. A manuscript appraisal will provide professional advice to improve your manuscript until it is ready for a professional editor.
Once you have completed (yet another) alpha-edited draft following your appraisal, you are ready to hire a professional editor.
The first step in professional editing is the developmental edit, which seeks to tighten up and strengthen the overall structure of your story. Do the plots and subplots all come to their conclusions? Does the character arc of your protagonist make sense? What about balance, pacing, rhythm, and tone? Does it make sense for your intended audience? And overall, does your story work?
Not all manuscripts will require developmental editing, but many do. And developmental editing requires—you guessed it—yet another alpha-edited draft as you work through the developmental feedback to improve your manuscript.
Once you are confident in your manuscript's structure and overall development of your fictional world, it is time for line editing. Line editing examines each sentence to ensure it is syntactically correct and says what you mean to say in the best way possible. Sentence-level editing will not necessarily end in another alpha edit. However, you're not off the hook yet. Sentence-level edited manuscripts typically come back with a host of tracked changes, even thousands of them, and you will need to review each edit and accept or reject it.
Now that your manuscript is off to the proofreader, you will not need to perform any additional alpha edits or further revisions. Since sentence-level and word-choice edits should have been completed through the sentence-level edit, your proofreader will ensure your manuscript is error-free and publication-ready.
Now, you have officially reached "done" on your editing journey. No further rewrites or revisions are needed. Take a bow and a deep breath before launching into formatting.
Happy writing and revising!