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Step into the Inner Sanctum: What’s behind the book editing veil?

Updated: Jan 4

In this series, you’re going to see behind the curtain as I reveal the editing process!

My goal is the same as yours: to publish the best book possible.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a magic wand. If I did, I’d be living in Wales in a stone cottage, making all my clients’ novels best sellers.

I can help you improve your novel for a better reader experience, but I can’t make it perfect, and I can’t do everything for you.

Without magic, editing takes time. For one round of editing, from the time I get the manuscript to the time I send it back to you the first time, it can take me anywhere from a month to two months. Copyediting being the quickest turn-around-time, line editing being the slowest.

A round is not a pass.

A pass is when I go through the manuscript once during the round. I do two to three passes with each round.

Think of it like nesting dolls.

  • One doll is a developmental edit, and the dolls inside are passes.

  • Another doll is line editing, and the dolls inside …

  • Copyediting is another doll, and the dolls …

Gosh, I hope that is a good analogy.

This episode: A Peek Behind Developmental Editing

The First Pass

I read your fiction novel. This lets me experience it as one of your readers.

I think this is a very important step in the process. I get a feel for your book and your writing. If the pacing feels off, like I get bored, can’t keep up, or I’m getting impatient for something to happen, I make a note. I also note if I don’t bond with the characters enough, can’t picture the setting, can’t follow the timeline of the plot, or anything that involves the bigger elements of your novel.

My notes are just initial impressions. I don’t make suggestions at this point. I’m simply jotting down thoughts and seeing if they hold true when I do my second pass. My notes are crude. Not in the mean sense, but they have spelling and grammatical errors, could be partial sentences or just one word. They are intended for me only.

They might look like:

Just bonded with Amelia.

No physical description of Zak. On purpose?


Can’t picture setting.

Is this important?

Who’s Jeremy? Check if they’ve been intro before.

I just got lost.

Pacing too slow. Look for important info in this section.

You will never see my initial comments. Hopefully. 😊

During the second pass, I reread your manuscript. This time, I look deeper and consult my notes. My first-impression notes are essential, because I’ve read it once already and know the plot and character arcs, etcetera.

The second pass is where I make suggestions for how the novel can be improved to meet the reader’s expectations. Granted, some of my opinions may be just that, my opinions, but they are professional ones.

I may propose some restructuring, cutting chapters or scenes or moving them around for better flow of the timeline.

If the scope of the edit included me shifting things around, I move and combine chapters myself and let you decide if you like it better or not. There have been times there was a decent number of moves, and I created a separate document so the author could see the difference.

I could recommend you add scenes. I just did this for a client who I thought needed more character depth, and I felt adding content would help the reader bond and root for the characters more.

Imagine an editor telling you to increase your word count!

It could be that a manuscript needs

  • more conflict or roadblocks for the characters.

  • more character depth or bigger arcs.

  • deeper wounds or clearer goals.

  • messages you are trying to get across are either too obvious or not obvious enough.

Possibly, I’ll suggest

  • holding some information back for a bit longer to increase suspense or tension!

  • creating new chapters where the reader gets the villain’s perspective.

If it’s a crime novel, I may recommend

  • adding a red herring or two or

  • keeping the identity of the perpetrator hidden from the reader longer or altogether

All my suggestions are only that. None of them “need” to be taken. I only hope they are considered or used to spark your imagination.

Here are examples of the changes from notes to comments to the author from the first round to the second.

Note to self: Pacing too slow. Look for important info in this section.

Author comment: This section slows the pacing a bit too much. The reader is in suspense mode, wanting to know if Jackson will take the bait, but these next two paragraphs reveal more of his backstory. Consider placing this backstory when they are in the dungeon instead.

Note to self: Can’t picture setting.

Author comment: The campsite may be hard for the reader to picture. Consider describing it a bit more. Try to use the characters’ interactions with the items they are using to stoke the fire and eat and maybe add some details of the logs they are sitting on and the surrounding trees. Mentioning they are oaks, maples, and/or pines should be enough.

Note to self: Is this important?

Author comment: Most of the information here doesn’t seem important for the reader to follow the storyline. Think about what is essential and trim it down to those things only, or consider removing this paragraph.

For the third round, I skim through the manuscript to ensure my comments and suggestions still make sense and will improve the novel.

That’s it for developmental editing!

If you think your fiction novel could benefit from a developmental edit, contact me!

If you have a magic wand, where did you get it?

Happy Writing!

Kristin Noland – Speculative fiction and crime fiction editor

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