How to Make a Book Step 3: Book Editing

In this eight-part series, I’ll walk you through the creation of a book using the next release from Practical Fox as an example. As I do the steps to make Life Among the Paiutes, I’ll write about it!

First, let’s deal with one of the most pressing questions on book Twitter:

Do you need a book editor? Yes!

Do you have to hire a book editor? No!

If you are aiming for traditional publication with a press of any size — a Big Five publisher or a small press like Graywolf — they will edit the book for you. You do not pay one cent to have your book published traditionally. The publisher pays you an advance, and they pay you royalties. You pay them nothing. Really, truly nothing.

If you are publishing the book yourself, you will pay for everything, including editing. All books need editing. Even editors who write books have other editors edit them. I, as an indie publisher, hire editors. Not my mom, though she’s very smart and reads a lot, and not my friend who teaches high school English, though she knows a lot about correcting mistakes. Editors have experience in making a book better, not just more correct.

There are hybrid publishing models that are legit and can be perfect for your situation, but the services you’ll pay for in those situations can vary, so ask if book editing is included before you sign any contracts.

Let’s look at some different kinds of editing.

Developmental Editing

For a developmental edit, you hand your entire manuscript over to an editor, whether it’s epic fantasy, a collection of short stories, a memoir, or a self-help book. The editor will read the whole thing, probably at least twice, and take notes. So many notes.

The editor will be looking for structural issues, characterization, plot, pacing, style — the big guns of book writing. Some typical book editing questions at this stage are:

  • Whose point of view is used for this book or story? Is it the most effective?
  • Does the pace vary? Do the characters (and the reader) have time to think as well as moving the story forward?
  • What are the themes? How are they tying the narrative together?
  • Are the opening and ending scenes and chapters in the right places? Will they feel satisfying to the reader?
  • Do the characters’ choices lead to events in the story, or is there a deus ex machina at work? And is that okay?

There’s a lot more, but these are typical. You’ll see a lot of comments in the margins of your manuscript, and you’ll get an editorial letter several pages long. The editor won’t tell you what to do, but they will ask questions and offer suggestions to inspire your revisions so you’re writing the book you want to write, not making do with the first or second draft.

Your publisher will do some developmental editing with your book. If you’re publishing solo, a developmental editor can elevate your work to professional grade.

Copy Editing

Once you’ve made all your major revisions, and probably gone back and forth with your developmental editor, the manuscript goes to a copy editor. This is where everything gets cleaned up and made consistent. You’ll have fewer big-picture revisions to make here, but you’ll have a lot of commas to clean up.

Copy editors look for things like:

  • Using the correct character names all the way through
  • That/which issues
  • Consistent comma usage
  • Parallel construction
  • Formatting for block quotes
  • Cliches

And a whole lot more. Most editor use a standard style guide, like The Chicago Manual of Style or AP, plus an in-house style guide for the publisher. And every individual book gets a style sheet where your own quirks are logged, from character names and descriptions to your preference for t-shirt over T-shirt.


This is the finest grit of editorial sandpaper. At this stage, the proofreader should be looking for tiny errors and typos; all the big fixes should have been made. Some manuscripts are very clean and have one error every couple of pages; some have errors still on every page. No proofreader ever turns a manuscript in and says, “I didn’t have to change a thing.”

It’s Your Work

It’s important to note that changes should not be made to your book without your knowing. Editors use Track Changes in Microsoft Word or they mark up paper copies, and you should see those edited pages. You should have the opportunity to say no to some suggestions — the famous “stet.”

If you have a publisher, they may be more insistent that you follow their style guides. If you’re doing it yourself, you have more control. Ask your editor why they want you to change a thing, and they’ll tell you. Editors have reasons for everything. If you like your version as it is regardless of the official style, that’s always your call.

Next time

Obviously, I’m an editor, so I have thoughts. But this is a basic overview of the editing process all books go through no matter how they get published. Next, we’ll talk a bit about designing the interior of the book using the edited, proofread text.