What to Expect From Your Editor

 In Editing

I’ve had several discussions with writers who are nervous about sending their work to an editor. It got me thinking that new authors may not understand what happens after they send their manuscript to their editor. So, I thought I’d give you a quick rundown of my process so you have an idea what to expect.

This applies to authors who request two manuscript readings. If you require only proofreading, this wouldn’t apply.

First Reading

The first reading is structural. For fiction, I look for plot and character development. If your character is aged 15 in the first chapter, I make sure that you don’t regress her to 12 in the eighth chapter. I also make sure that your characters ‘remain in character.’ If your evil villain suddenly gives someone a tender look, it needs to be part of the plot development or your audience will wonder when they entered the twilight zone. At the same time, I look for holes in your plot development or slow points which should be addressed.

Non-fiction is significantly different. Here, it is crucial that your thesis is developed and your arguments are sound and follow a logical progression. If I find any weaknesses, I flag them for you to address. At the same time, I read for extra content. Yes, you will almost certainly have to CUT. Don’t be alarmed. It’s painful to allow a faceless stranger to give a critique of your words, but it’s for your benefit. Editors are trained to look for secondary threads that don’t add to the argument, or journeys down side paths that distract from your argument. Remember, your goal is to please your reader.

At this point, you get your manuscript back. It’s important that you turn it around as quickly as possible. Structural changes need to be completed prior to a final proofreading, and you may be under publishing deadlines. You will almost certainly find suggestions that you do not agree with. That’s fine – this is your work. However, do not reject the suggestions without serious consideration.

Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.

William Zinsser, On Writing Well

Second Reading          

Once you return the manuscript, I begin the detail copyediting. This is painstaking work that must be done carefully.

Editors look for many things at once. Copyediting is not simply a matter of looking for grammar and punctuation issues. One of the biggest parts of the job is ensuring consistency. Are your character’s names spelled the same from beginning to end? Do you spell place names correctly? Do you use the serial comma, or not? Are you inordinately fond of adverbs? There are countless details that editors need to watch for.

When you get your final manuscript back, you need to seriously reflect on each of the recommendations. Again, you’ll find there are instances where your editor has made changes you disagree with. Keep in mind, however, that you hire an editor for their expertise. You do not have to accept any of the changes, but know why you don’t accept them.


As writers, we’re strongly attached to our words: we don’t want to discard any of them. That is only natural. So editors, who read from an unbiased perspective, are an essential part of the process. An editor’s objective is to act as a bridge between the author and the reader and to make the process as enjoyable as possible for each.

No matter how many red marks you see on your edited manuscript, remember that your editor is not your enemy.

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