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  • Writer's pictureKate Armstrong

What Is My Editor Doing with My Manuscript During a Line Edit?

Picture shows a stack of books with a mug of coffee placed on top. There's a banner across the stack with the post title, "My LIne Editing Process."

What’s the difference between a developmental edit and a copyedit? What the heck is line editing? What kind of feedback can I expect when I hire an editor? The whole process of having your manuscript edited can feel shrouded in mystery and difficult to navigate. Before you sign a contract and hand over your book baby to an editor, it’s critical that you know what services you’re purchasing, what those services entail, and what you can expect by the end of the process.

This post aims to pull back the curtain on one type of editing: line editing (with just a hint of copyediting thrown in because the boundaries between the two are fuzzy). If you need more information about what the term “line editing” even means, click here. Every editor works differently, but this post offers the inside scoop on my process. After we’ve decided to work together, and I receive your manuscript, these are the steps I take:

1. Prep the manuscript and complete basic formatting.

As soon as I receive a manuscript, I create a folder for the client and save their manuscript in Microsoft Word with the file name “Author Name_Title_Date_Original.” Then I make a copy and save it as “Author Name_Title_Date_Marked-up Copy” (clever, I know). I do all my editing in the marked-up copy so that the author always has a way to return to the original. (They can also return to the original using the drop-down menu on Word’s review tab, but having the original in a separate document allows authors to compare the original and edited versions side by side, without having to toggle.)

During this step, I also complete basic formatting—Times New Roman, twelve point font, one inch margins, one space after periods instead of two, etc.—so that the formatting changes don’t cause a sea of red Track Change marks before I even get started.

2. Make a first pass through the entire document without making any edits.

The purpose of this pass is to enjoy the manuscript, get a feel for the author’s voice, and take (mental) notes of any sticky spots.

3. Make a second pass through the entire document, making extensive in-line edits and comments/queries.

This is the meat of my work. On this pass, I work line-by-line, editing for clarity, concision, word choice, repetition and redundancy, rhythm, tone, the dreaded showing versus telling, and other elements of language. If I see grammatical errors, consistency concerns, or wonkiness with the spelling and punctuation, I mark that too.

I often do this step one paragraph at a time using Word’s Read Aloud function. I listen to a paragraph, edit it, then switch to “no markup” (an option on Word’s review tab that allows you to see the text with all the suggested edits accepted) and listen to it again to make sure I’ve improved it and not introduced any errors.

At this stage, I’ll also jot notes into the editorial letter and leave comments and queries in the margins. The comments are my place to have a conversation with the author. They allow me to praise particularly great passages, explain why I’ve recommended a change, explain writing craft recommendations that the author can apply to future manuscripts as well, and ask the author’s opinion about potential changes (among many other things).

4. Make a third, targeted pass revising trouble spots.

During this pass, I revisit spots where I wasn’t satisfied with my editing on the second pass, or where I’ve done significant editing. Sometimes the perfect “fix” jumps out at me at this point. Other times, I realize a suggestion I made was too heavy-handed or gummed up the rhythm of the sentence. In these instances, I reject the change and start from scratch, or I opt to go with the “first do no harm” approach and let well enough alone! If the author has paid for a combined line edit and copyedit, this is the pass where I finalize my copyediting.

5. Reread and revise my comments.

At this stage, I revisit the comments and ask myself: Is this clear? Is this kind and respectful? Is this honest and helpful? Was the question I posed here already answered elsewhere in the manuscript? Etc.

6. Run software to catch tiny errors like inconsistent hyphenation and capitalization.

I use PerfectIt and Word’s spell check for this step. The use of AI in editing is a topic of great debate. Technically, these software tools fall under the category of AI. While I’d never substitute software for my human editing, running PerfectIt at the end of an edit makes my margin of error smaller. Studies have shown that catching 95 percent of errors is the absolute best a human editor can hope for; PerfectIt helps close that gap.

7. Save a third copy of the manuscript with the file name “Author Name_Title_Date_Clean Copy.”

This copy has all the recommended edits accepted and all my comments deleted. I normally recommend the author reads this version first. It’s less overwhelming because it’s clean text rather than red Track Changes-laden text, and if I’ve done my job correctly, the author should read it and realize, “Wow! I’m a great writer.” After that boost, they can move to the marked-up copy and work through my suggested edits, comments, and queries.

8. Write the editorial letter.

In the editorial letter, I thank the author for trusting me with their project, offer my general impressions of their manuscript, and provide both a roadmap of the edits and suggestions for how to tackle them. As with the comments, I take great care to ensure the editorial letter is clear, helpful, and compassionate.

In a combined line edit and copyedit, this is also where I’d finalize the style sheet.

9. Send the editorial letter, clean copy, and marked-up copy of the manuscript to the author and schedule a follow-up Google meeting to answer any questions the author has.

All in, a 100,000-word manuscript takes me at least fifty hours to work through and edit well. All that work, however, helps ensure that when your manuscript is complete, it’s exactly what you envisioned!

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