The Editorial Process—How Does It Work?


Step 1: First draft

If you’ve ever crossed the finish line in a race, or gotten an infant to fall asleep after hours of crying, or successfully assembled IKEA furniture without getting divorced, you know how it feels to finish the first draft of a manuscript. Finishing a book-length work requires commitment, doggedness, and, let’s be honest, a little bit of insanity. You’ve spent hours staring at a screen, trying to catch the wondrous wisps of your story with clumsy hands, keeping faith that eventually you’ll be able to type “the end.” And then one day you do. A first draft is rough, unwieldy, underdeveloped in some places and bloated in others. If it were a house, it would have windows that didn’t open and staircases that led nowhere. But it has a floor and a roof, and that makes it a mansion compared to where you started.

Time to hire an editor, right? Nope, not yet.

Step 2: Revision

It can be surprising to learn that “the end” is in fact just the beginning of the work ahead for an author hoping to turn an idea into a finished book. “Writing is rewriting,” and in rewriting and revising the raw material in a first draft, an author comes closer to figuring out what she intends to say and how she should say it. In fiction, characters might be combined or cut, plot lines developed or abandoned, exposition trimmed. In nonfiction, an author might streamline a structure, narrow the manuscript’s focus, or expand case studies.

Step 3: Feedback

When you’ve used every tool you have to refine your manuscript, the next step is to seek feedback from readers you trust. That may mean members of your writing group who “get” your voice/concept/audience, conscripted relatives, or a professional editor. At Word Bird, we provide manuscript evaluations to writers looking for a roadmap to revision. A manuscript evaluation is not an edit; rather, we give the book a careful read and provide you with an editorial letter of ten to twenty pages that addresses what’s working and what’s not. At this stage we attend to clarity, organization, structure, plot, character development, pace and tension, and prose style. We consider your goal for the book—will you pursue traditional publication or publish independently?—and tailor our feedback to help you come closer to achieving it.

Step 4: Further revision

For many writers, the greatest challenge of the editorial process is digesting the detailed suggestions they receive from an editor. As writers ourselves, we know this process all too well. It can be tough to hear a list of things that aren’t working, and daunting to figure out how to fix them. But this phase also represents great opportunity, because it is through this strategic revision that a book can be transformed from that wonky house no one could live in to a showpiece an architect would be proud of. Feedback from Word Bird is specific and actionable—we show you just where the problems lie, and make suggestions about the steps to take to resolve them.

Step 5: Revised draft

After you tackle these revisions, you will have a revised draft of your manuscript. This may be the third draft or the twelfth or the twenty-fifth, but the point is that you have addressed the problems in the story, developed the characters, remedied issues in the prose, and are satisfied with the manuscript in its current form.

Step 6: Line editing

Some books require line-by-line attention to prose once they reach the revised draft stage. Perhaps you have fixed problems with structure and tension, but still feel uncertain about how to improve sentence structure, aim for more precise word choice, and achieve the kind of flow that makes some books a pleasure to read. This work is done using the track changes feature in Microsoft Word. Authors receive the marked manuscript electronically, “accept” or “reject” changes one by one, and respond to queries in the margins asking for clarification.

Step 7: Copyediting

All books require copyediting. A quick glance through some self-published books will tell you that not all authors adhere to this rule. But considering the enormous work it takes to write and revise a manuscript, it’s a shame to put something out in the world that contains misspelled words, incorrect punctuation, and inconsistencies in verb tense, spelling of places, and character names. Sometimes we’ll advise a writer to forego copyediting if her manuscript is cleanly written and she intends to pursue traditional publication. If your book sells, it will be copyedited by the publisher, so it may not make sense to pay for that service up front. On the other hand, it’s never a bad idea to put your best foot forward while searching for an agent. And certainly anyone planning to self-publish should build the cost of copyediting into the budget. Copyediting addresses grammar, spelling, usage, punctuation, and other mechanics of style, as well as consistency of mechanics and facts. This work is done using the track changes feature in Microsoft Word. Authors receive the marked manuscript electronically, “accept” or “reject” changes one by one, and respond to queries in the margins.

Step 8: Final draft

When all the revision is finished, and line editing (if necessary) and copyediting are complete, you have a final draft on your hands. At this stage, you might begin researching agents and draft a query letter pitching your book. Or you might hire Word Bird to write or consult on the query letter. Or, if you are planning to self-publish, you will move forward with hiring a cover designer, book designer, and building a platform to sell your book online.

In either case, Word Bird’s role in the editorial process is complete. Now we get to sit back and cheer you on from the sidelines!