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Editorial Stages

by Red Sage Publishing

All the contest entries are in, and we’re going to have a hard task in picking the winner! Good luck to all who have entered! We’ll be having a live online party to celebrate the winners, and should have details soon.

I thought today we might talk a little bit about the editing process. At Red Sage, we take quality very seriously, and we edit our manuscipts accordingly. Regardless of their specific job description, every employee who handles a manuscript is charged with the duty of watching out for technical errors and confusing moments. We develop and protect employees and authors who embrace this mission of quality. So that mission applies at all stages — everyone from our initial reader to our typesetter can flag potential errors in a manuscript, and my inbox is frequently full of these kinds of questions. This makes me happy. When my team is as persnickety about commas and nuances as I am, I know we’re all on the right track.

But the editing process itself, aside from watchful eyes at all stages, can generally be broken into three phases.

First comes revisions. Revisions are story changes, and will generally result in an author rewriting from scratch anything from a paragraph to big chunks of the text. In fact, sometimes revisions are so comprehensive that an entirely fresh manuscript will result. But that’s the exception. Usually, revision instructions will be aimed at a particular scene or passage or plot element.

Common revisions include:
Starting the story in a different spot in the timeline.
Reshaping the ending to move the climax closer to the last page.
Combining or eliminating secondary characters.
Resolving logic errors in the plot.
Tweaks to scenes to highlight drama and theme.

Revisions are performed by the author under the editor’s guidance. During the course of the revisions, some line editing might be started, but usually, we wait to edit the lines until all the big-picture stuff is in place.

Line editing, the second phase of the editing process, is when we get into the nitty gritty of the sentences on the page. This is where we untangle tangled constructions, eliminate repetitions, and ponder whether a pregnant woman “pets,” “pats,” or “strokes” her belly. This is where we make sure that questions have answers, and that the hero doesn’t bolt from his horse’s back three times in a row without ever mounting it at all. This is where we rearrange the order of sentences within a scene and of phrases within a sentence. This part of the process is mostly performed by the editor, with input from the writer. The goal is to take a solid story and make its presentation graceful and clear.

During line editing, a lot of grammar and usage matters will be resolved. These are traditionally part of the copy editor’s role, who is charged with the final clean-up of all text. Our copy editor talks about her role in terms of “last eyes.” Hers are the last eyes on the manuscript before it goes into production. She is the last defense against typos, comma faults, and misplaced modifiers being typeset. She is the one, in other words, who keeps us from walking around in public with our skirts tucked into our pantyhose.

Our in-house goal is to have our manuscripts as clean as possible before they get to the copy editor. The reasons for this may be obvious, but my feeling is that any copy editor will be most effective if she’s working with mostly clean text. And because she’s dealing with technical matters of grammar and house style, her decisions are usually treated as final, though the editor might be consulted along the way.

That’s pretty much the nutshell version. Other people are involved and other eyes check work after it is in galleys. But the three main stages of editing are revision, line edits, and copy edits.

Theresa Stevens
Managing Editor

1 comment

Maree Anderson April 6, 2008 at 3:56 pm

As an unpubbed author I do try to proof and edit to a high degree (and I'm told I have pretty 'clean' mss) but I'm always afraid something will get through… especially when I'm proofing and edited my own work. This post about the 3 different stages of editing explains everything I've always wanted to know. Three cheers for Red Sage's eagle-eyed editorial staff!

Really appreciate you taking the time to educate us.

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