For new authors, the editorial process can be a mystery. Then when they are in the thick of it, the number of editing and proofreading rounds can be both surprising and daunting. (For one thing, how are they supposed to concentrate on writing their next book if the one being edited keeps popping back for attention?) But at least when a book gets to the last editing stage—known as line or copy editing—they can see the light at the end of the editorial tunnel. Trust me, proofreading is not as intense!
Authors experiencing a line edit for the first time might wonder how the editor will approach the work. Or more to the point, how he or she will approach their book. I can speak only for myself, so here is a peek into my process.
1. I listen to understand. If I don’t know the author, and especially if a publishing house has not asked me to work with the author directly, I try to find a video of him or her speaking. I can often find one on the author’s website or on YouTube. Literal voice is not the same as literary voice, but I still have a better sense of who that author is and how personality might be infusing the work.
2. I read to understand. I try to read more than edit the first time through a manuscript. Yes, I correct some grammar, spelling, and punctuation nuts and bolts as I go along (most line editors can’t help themselves!), and to ensure I won’t overlook them later I highlight places where I will need to give extra attention. The most important aspect of the first read-through, however, is that I get to know how every element is intended to work together to make a whole.
3. I champion the reader. As I read for the second time, the detailed and final work of editing begins. Word by word and line by line, I put myself in the reader’s place. Editors before me have cared for any structure or pacing issues—especially in novels—for example, but my job is to try to ensure that no reader is unnecessarily stopped cold—or even slowed down—by error or squishy-ness. Plausibility issues, word choices not quite on target, repetition, and so on are all on the table on behalf of readers.
4. I champion the author. I know every page—sometimes every word—an author crafts is hard-won. Writing is a joy, but it is also hard work. Though I am forthright about what I think, in my expertise and opinion, needs to be addressed, my goal is to help the author make the book the best it can be, supporting his or her career. I am always aware the book is not mine, but I am also aware it is my responsibility as an editor to treat it as carefully and thoroughly as if it were.
Editing is a wonderful profession; we editors care about editorial excellence. But I hope authors understand above all else that most editors—even the ones examining every word and line—care about them, their work, and their readers just as much as they care about the nitty-gritty of language and writing technique.
After twenty-four years with publishing house Zondervan in Grand Rapids, Michigan, most recently as an executive managing editor, Jean Bloom returned to Central Indiana to be near family and take her freelance editorial business full-time (Bloom in Words Editorial Services). Her personal blog is Bloom in Words too, where she often posts articles about the writing life. She and her husband, Cal, have three children and five grandchildren.