The Editorial Process ~ by Steve Laube

, a literary agent and
president of The Steve Laube Agency, has been in the book industry for over 31
years, first as a bookstore manager where he was awarded the National Store of
the Year by CBA. He then spent over a decade with Bethany House Publishers and
was named the Editor of the Year in 2002. He later became an agent and has
represented over 700 new books and was named Agent of the Year by ACFW. His
office is in Phoenix, Arizona. (
It is important to understand the process through which a book takes
under the umbrella called “The Edit.” I meet many first timers who think it is
just a one-time pass over their words and that is all that will ever happen.
And many who self-publish think that hiring a high school English teacher to
check for grammar is enough of an edit.
There are four major stages to the Editorial Process. Unfortunately
they are called by various names depending on which publisher you are working
with, which can create confusion. I will try to list the various terms but keep
them under the four categories.

Rewrites / Revisions/ Substantive Edit

These can happen multiple times. You could get input from your agent
or an editor who suggests you rewrite or revise those sample chapters of the
full manuscript. Last year I suggested that one of my non-fiction clients cut
the book in half and change its focus. We sold this first time author. But the
writer had to do a lot of work to get it ready for the proposal stage.
There are some publishers that will do this stage after a book has
already been contracted because they saw the potential in the proposal. And
note that this stage isn’t always necessary. It all depends on the quality of
that final draft you turned in to your publisher. Few get it perfect the first

Line Edit / Substantive Edit/ Content Edit

Already you can see a descriptive term repeated. This stage is where
the editor, usually a senior editor, or an editor is hired by the publisher to
look at the book closely. This stage can morph into a rewrite (see above) if
there are substantive changes. In some ways it is like a mechanic pulling apart
an engine and inspecting the parts, and then putting it all back together
Sometimes this stage is very light sometimes it can feel heavy handed.
Neither is wrong. Trust the editor to have the desire to make your book better.
Remember that this stage can be a form of negotiation. Ultimately it
is your name on the finished book. An editor should not dictate but should
facilitate. It is ultimately a partnership. And if you find that perfect
partner…do what you can to work with them over and over. But also do not blind
yourself into thinking that you are always right.


This can be done in-house or with a freelancer. One friend of mine
calls this stage “The Grammar Police.” The copyeditor’s job is to check
grammar, punctuation, spelling, and consistency. If your book has unusual
spellings (like characters with Czechoslovakian names) consider creating a
separate document called a style sheet which should be submitted with your
manuscript so the copyeditor will know you meant to spell a word that way.
Consistency is the key.
This edit takes a special skill. The editor is technically not reading
for content. They are looking at each word for accuracy in communication.
It can be a stage fraught with humor. Like the time a copy editor
changed the phrase “woulda, coulda, shoulda” to “would have, could have, should
have” because the first was grammatically incorrect.
Unfortunately this stage can also be fraught with danger if the
copyeditor suddenly takes the role of substantive editor, after that stage has
already passed. I’ve heard stories of character names being changed, entire
scenes rewritten, etc. If you have trouble at this stage, appeal to your senior
(or acquisitions) editor and see if the changes had been approved before being
sent to you.
Again, remember that this can be a place for negotiation. But if you
are breaking the rules of grammar or spelling be prepared to defend yourself. But please, Never Burn a Bridge.


If the line editor is looking at the paragraph for content, and the
copy editor is looking at every word for accuracy, the proofreader is looking
at every letter and punctuation mark for perfection.
Again, this takes a special skill. I once sat on a plane next to an
amazing freelance proofreader. I proudly showed her an article I was writing.
She found ten mistakes per page. Every one of them was my fault for being
sloppy. I ate humble pie with my bag of peanuts.
This proofreader is the last protection you have before the book is
tossed into the market.

Error Free Publishing

With all these eyes on your book you are guaranteed to have a product
with no typos or errors of any kind….oops…that isn’t true.
Despite every effort and a lot of smart people working on your book,
an error is bound to slip through. I remember one book where we had the author,
three of his students, myself, a copy editor, and two proofreaders go through a
book. Eight people. The book was published and the author’s critics found a
dozen errors within the first week. Sigh.
Do your publishers a favor. If you find an error? Make a note of it
(page number, line number, and error) and write a quick note to the editorial
department of that publisher respectfully pointing it out. A file is usually
kept of every book and when it is time to reprint the book they can go in and
correct the error. And in the ebook world the digital file can be corrected
fairly easy.