Content editing process
I start each content edit with a full read of the manuscript. I make occasional comments on the draft at this stage, but mostly I am writing notes, tracking my experience as a reader, and taking notes for chapter summaries and other elements of the story spreadsheet.
After my first read, I flesh out the story spreadsheet, organize my notes, and start thinking through the strengths and weaknesses of the book. I have a long list of questions I walk through for every book. (For example, does the book start in the right place? For nonfiction, does the author establish their authority on the topic at hand?) I then make an edit plan for myself, listing topics I want to cover in the editorial letter and/or manuscript comments.
At this point, I start reading the manuscript again from the top and begin drafting the editorial letter. During this second read-through, I add specific comments to the manuscript that support my advice in the editorial letter and make it concrete. I also note smaller issues that need revision.
Along the way, I often dip into books the author lists as influences or comps (other books their ideal readers are likely to be reading), and I also add any specific resources or additional comps to the project Trello board for the author to take a look at.
At the end of the project, the author receives the manuscript with my comments, a copy of the story spreadsheet, and the editorial letter. We schedule a call to discuss my advice, or consult over email. After getting a sense of the scope of recommended revisions, the author and I decide on the timeline for beginning the next round of work, usually a copyedit.
Before starting the edit, I send authors a questionnaire to find out about their preferences on details like commas and dash styles. For most projects, I set up the style sheet for the book as well as a Google doc for notes. Once I start the edit, I run every sentence through a series of questions and checks:
Does it fit the logic of the paragraph / chapter / story or argument? If not, I add a comment about why, along with revision suggestions.
Is the phrasing clunky or cloudy? If so, I add a comment suggesting one or more possible revisions of the sentence.
Does it follow standard grammar and usage rules? If not, I make corrections using Track Changes. If I see a pattern of problems (for example, misusing semicolons), I will explain the applicable rule.
Does it follow Chicago style? (For example, are numbers up to one hundred spelled out?) If not, I make corrections using Track Changes.
Are all words spelled correctly? I correct obvious typos and look up words I need to check, often compounds or hyphenated words (backseat or back-seat or back seat)? I make corrections using Track Changes and add any words I looked up to the style sheet.
Are there any proper nouns or basic facts that need to be confirmed? I comment on any problems and/or add fact-checked proper nouns to the style sheet.
For fiction, are there any character or timeline details that need to be added to the style sheet? I comment on any inconsistencies that need to be addressed.
If I have questions about a style preference of anything else, I add it to the project Trello board for the author to answer.
After I’ve given every sentence in the manuscript this level of scrutiny, I clean up and organize the style sheet and make any changes needed in the manuscript in response to the author’s input on questions. For fiction, I run through the timeline I’ve created on the style sheet to check again for any problems. I add a card to the project Trello board with writing advice based on what I’ve seen in the copyediting – for example, advice on how to use action tags or how to avoid overusing adverbs. I add cards on any specific resources the author might benefit from.
Finally, I upload the copyedited manuscript and a draft of the style sheet to our shared Google folder. I answer questions about the edit via email or a project call and consult with the author on the timing of the next round, if necessary.