You’ve just finished writing your latest piece and sent it off to your editor.
Great, you think, time to play the waiting game. Again.
As you piddle around watching Netflix and seeing how many cheesy poofs you can fit in your mouth (oh, sure, like I’m the only one who does that!), you start to wonder. What’s the hold up?
Surely it doesn’t take several hours, let alone a few days, to catch a few typos. You know your editor has a personal life, but still.
Why does it take so damn long for her to edit your article?
Unless you happen to be a good writer who is also capable of being a great editor, odds are you’re fairly oblivious to the process an editor must go through to edit just about anything. If it was merely about checking for errors and typos, then you’d be correct; the process shouldn’t take long at all.
Editing isn’t just about spell-checking, however; it’s about ensuring that your article is the best that it can be, and that means looking at everything about it. Multiple times. Over and over again.
So let’s peek behind the curtain, and see in-depth what your editor is doing while you’re Netflix-binging and cheesy poof-stuffing.
As a writer, you have to remember that, even though you know your article inside and out, your editor is seeing it for the first time. She has so much to look over and a lot to process.
The first thing an editor must do is the initial readthrough. This is where she does nothing but read your article from beginning to end without changing a thing.
“What?” you say, bamboozled, perturbed, and maybe even a little offended. “That sounds like a total time-waster. It’s not even editing! I’m not paying her to read my article. I’m paying her to fix it.”
True enough. But I can promise you that this readthrough is a crucial step to the editing process.
It’s the first contact your editor has with the piece, and it’s the first time she’s able to look over your writing as a whole to understand:
Without doing this first, it’s easy for editors to get too excited and make premature edits. For instance, they may note that you didn’t explain a term efficiently, only to find that the very next section is where you discuss the term at length, as you always intended to do.
And that’s a real time-waster, a non-issue that both the editor and the writer has to go back and deal with. Just imagine the scenario: the editor forgets to go back and eliminate the premature edit, leaving the poor writer confused beyond belief as to what she even wants. Cue an awkward back-and-forth where neither understands what the other person is after.
After the readthrough, which could take a few minutes to an hour or more depending on how long or complicated the piece is, your editor is ready to start making actual edits.
But what do they decide to edit first and how?
Editing is typically divided into three categories: developmental editing, copy editing, and line editing. A good editor will employ all three, usually in different editing rounds for greater efficiency.
Also known as content editing, is a bigger picture type of editing and is usually the first round that an editor will use on your article. When an editor content edits, she is looking for issues with readability, style and voice consistency, idea clarity and structure, and the writer’s target audience.
She asks questions like, “Does this idea make sense? Should this paragraph stay here or come right after the introduction? Did the writer change verb tenses midway through the article, and how can I fix that? Does the writer address the same ideal reader throughout?”
On the other hand, copy editing is all about the mechanics. This is the editing step that writers typically think of when they want their typos and errors fixed: the proofreading step. During copy editing, an editor goes through your writing with pinpoint accuracy, locating grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes and ensuring all your facts and sources are accurate.
Very little rewriting take place during this round, focusing instead on minute changes. For online articles, many editors choose to print out a hardcopy, so they can focus with extra care on finding these smaller issues, littering the pages with proofreading marks.
Finally, line editing sharpens the process to an even finer point. As the name implies, line editors go line by line to ensure that every word is perfect and ready to be published. They check for run-on sentences and repetition, diction and word choice, bland and cliche language, and anything that can potentially confuse the reader. Line editing looks to trim passages and paragraphs, solidify transitions, and maintain a pleasant fluidity of language.
Typically, professional editors engage with a developmental editing round before they do the other two.
It’s a good idea for the editor to give the reins back to the writer after developmental editing, so he can do rewrites and make changes.
The reason for this is because there’s little sense in trying to find all the little proofreading errors when most are likely going to disappear during rewrites and, more often than not, be replaced with new errors.
It’s important to get the big picture elements of an article squared away before moving on to the smaller things, and developmental editing is usually its own preliminary round.
After that round, the article typically goes back to the editor for copy editing and line editing.
For example, at Craft Your Content (CYC), writers can expect to receive their work back after each and every editing round for their approval until they’re ready to hand it off for the next round.
Our process looks something like this: Developmental Editing Round → Writer → Copy Editing Round → Writer → Line Editing Round → Writer → Production and Formatting → Article Posted.
We have multiple editors that look over one piece, one for every round, so our editing eyes stay fresh and mistakes are more easily caught during each revision round. We all essentially build off of each other.
Plenty of editors outside CYC combine these edits and do them all at once, which isn’t necessarily a wrong thing to do. Often, copy editing and line editing go hand-in-hand and can be tackled together, but some editors like to keep them separate. If your editor does separate these steps, then you should expect for the editing process to take longer.
For shorter works, performing all three edit types in one editorial session is certainly possible; I’m definitely prone to doing this, because my brain is both a catch-all yet highly detail-oriented machine.
Nevertheless, looking for too much at once means editors are more likely to miss mistakes and make more errors themselves.
That’s why editors always read through the article a second and maybe even a third time to make sure that they catch anything they miss the first time and that they agree with all the edits they suggested. (In fact, editors should be doing this anyway, regardless of editing style, but unfortunately, as you probably already know, people.)
The editor’s gotten the structure of the article worked out, ensured the writer’s voice and tone remained consistent along with reader POV, and found every comma splice and broken website link. What does she do now?
If your editor’s feeling confident about everything, then she should be returning the article to you, so you can look over all her suggested edits and accept them or make comments. If she’s not feeling so hot about it, then she’ll re-read the article again (and maybe even a third or fourth time) until everything is settled—or as settled as it can be without your input.
Depending on the size of the article or difficulty-level of the content, this should take no more than a few days.
If it is taking longer (especially if it consistently takes longer), then you should definitely have a discussion with your editor about her work ethic. Find out what’s stopping her from finishing your article edits sooner, see if there’s anything either of you can do to eliminate that obstacle, and then do it.
You also need to be prepared to realize that the problem may be you.
It happens all the time, really. Many writers aren’t as strong with the whole writing thing as they think they are, and editors, wanting to help them turn their writing into something great, bite off more than they can chew.
Sometimes, it’s because the writer is a Philosopher, where her writing is way more complicated than the editor first thought, the subject matter too difficult to tackle quickly. More than likely, the editor is struggling to make sense of it, maybe spending less time editing and more time researching terms and ideas so she doesn’t waste the writer’s time with poorly-informed edits. If so, then it may be a good idea to find another editor who is familiar with the specific niche in which you’re writing.
You could also be a First Drafter, where you’re actually a much weaker writer than you first thought, and the editor isn’t certain how to tell you that, especially if you can’t take criticism well.
With weaker writers, editors have to take much more time. There may be a lot of revisions the editor has to tackle and a great deal of rewriting to do. By the end of the first round, there may not be much of your original work left. The ideas were there, but the writing just wasn’t up to par, and the editor had to pick up the slack because of that. The best thing you can do is keep communication channels open, and see what you both can do to help each other.
If after reviewing all this there’s nothing substantial holding your editor back from doing her job, then consider hiring a new one.
New content waits for no man, and there will always be people out there with the same idea you have.
It’s all about who produces it first and how well they produce it—and you want to be first!
Set the standard. If you’re constantly waiting on your editor to get back to you, and your piece isn’t much better for the time it’s taken to edit it, then clearly the enthusiasm for your writing isn’t shared between you.
The relationship is no longer symbiotic, and it’s best for both of you to part ways and move on.
Are you currently looking for an editor? Do you wish to create high-quality, content-rich articles — or maybe something even more ambitious, like an ebook? Work with us, and see if Craft Your Content is the right fit for you.
A Georgia native, Melody would actually like to get out of her state as soon as possible. Until she can do so physically, escaping to fictional worlds from Gotham to Wizarding Britain will have to do. Balancing a reader's free-spirited mindset with an editor's critical eye can be tough, but the combination is a quality she tries to bring to her own writing as well as to help emulate in others. You can find her online if you're clever enough. Just be forewarned that she's probably busy laughing at stupid internet memes, screaming about Batman characters, or admiring men that can wear the hell out of a suit (bonus points if they're Italian). Melody is a content editor for Craft Your Content