The Four Phases of Editing

For many, the work of editors can seem mysterious, if not a bit intimidating. As writers we know they hold the power to get us published, but we have little idea how the process works.

One doorway into this mystery is the four phases of editing. All four phases can be handled by a single person, or each phase may be carried out by a different editor. Then at times a writer will work with two or three editors on a single project. It often depends on the size and structure of the publisher.

Phase one is acquisition editing. An editor’s role here is to sign up authors to provide articles, blogs, books, or other written material. This is likely the first gatekeeper a writer encounters. Sometimes editors solicit pieces from writers they know, and sometimes writers come to editors with ideas. This phase has been jokingly (derisively?) referred to as “belly editing” for the legendary lunch meetings between editors and authors.

Phase two is developmental editing which involves guiding and coaching authors as they begin to write and shape manuscripts as well as when it comes to making major revisions. While an acquisitions editor may also do the developmental work, sometimes the manuscript is handed off to another person. At this stage larger questions of structure, tone, and audience are in view. For fiction, character development and plot are the focus. For nonfiction, presentation and persuasion are foremost.

Once the development editor and the author are largely in agreement about the revised manuscript, phase three begins: line editing. Here the editor concentrates on the sentence level, centering on awkward phrasing, clutter, stylistic issues, and word choice. Your development editor may also handle the line editing phase, but probably not the acquisitions editor unless there’s only one or two people in the whole department.

The final phase is copyediting which deals with grammar, spelling, punctuation, house style, and format. Fact checking may arise here or perhaps at the line editing stage. Sometimes line editing and copyediting will be done simultaneously by a single person, collapsing these last two phases into one. After each stage authors are normally given opportunity to review the editing, respond to questions and suggestions, and to make further revisions.

What are the priorities and concerns of editors in each phase? That is a topic for other blog posts. To get you started, however, I offer some ideas about how editors and agents think in Appendix B of Write Better.

In general, remember all editors in all phases of editing care about good writing, good ideas, and finding readers. In that regard, we are all on the same team.

photos: restaurant (Life-Of-Pix, Pixabay); manuscript (annekarakash; Pixabay)

Author: Andy Le Peau

I've been an editor and writer for over forty years. I am passionate about ideas and how we can express them clearly, beautifully, and persuasively. I love reading good books, talking about them, and recommending them. I thoroughly enjoy my family who help me continue on the path of a lifelong learner.

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