This question came from Siina on Facebook. Thanks, Siina!
Before we dig in, let's cover the basics.
There are several major steps to editing a book.
1. Developmental editing
2. Line editing and copyediting
Ideally, you have a different editor for each step. A fresh pair of eyes brings new insight and coverage to each crucial phase of the manuscript.
The developmental editor’s role is the big picture. They look at the overall shape, flow, structure of the novel as well as any big ticket items like character development, world building, story arc, pacing, etc. Their job is to work with you as you revise and rewrite. Any large changes in the novel, like rewriting a section or altering the plot or making a different characterization choice usually fall under their watch.
Line Editing & Copyediting
The line editor has a unique and beautiful job. Once the rewrites are done, their role is to help smooth and refine the language, sentence structures, improve the diction, enhance the meaning by making strategic edits, suggestions, and improvements. They help to ensure that the prose itself is fluid and pleasurable to read. They deal with the art of the writing itself.
The copy editor (sometimes the same person as the line editor, sometimes not) has a more technical role, insuring correctness of the prose and the basics like spelling and grammar are in check. They also fact check and ensure that your stylistic choices are consistent. Their job is to help the author present the story in the clearest, cleanest, more easily understood manner.
NOTE: There are many different approaches to the line editing and copyediting phase. From what I understand they are sometimes lumped together into one phase, and sometimes treated separately. They can also be performed by the same person or by separate people. It can be confusing, too, because some use the term "line editing" to refer to proofreading. Here are two good resources that explain the differences between line editing and copyediting.
The proofreader comes in after the last changes are made and scours the pages looking for any and all errors, incorrect facts, or typos. They try to ensure your book is error free.
You also usually have a production editor who helps oversee the entire process, including the various stages of the manuscript and assists with communications between you and the editors.
How we edited Blood, Ink & Fire
For Blood, Ink & Fire, we began the editorial process with the manuscript after it had been reviewed and commented on by The Hundred, the group of one hundred beta readers, of which Siina was one. The group included YA readers, editors, librarians and teachers.
After receiving the feedback and beta reader surveys, I made notes, reviewed the novel and made substantive changes based on that feedback with the help of our project editor. Because the feedback was so thorough and detailed, we (Upturn Publishing and I) chose to use that as the basis for our developmental edit. In many ways, having The Hundred was like having 100 developmental editors instead of just one.
Once I revised the manuscript using feedback from The Hundred, we then began line editing and copyediting. My copyeditor was great and performed both functions herself. I felt like she really understood what I wanted to achieve stylistically, especially in Ledger’s chapters, which were more lyrical and in the third person. She helped me cut a lot of unnecessary language and I appreciated that.
Lastly the proofread. This was the most challenging part of the process for me. Since I’d only ever win a spelling bee in an alternate universe, picking up textual errors can be a challenge. So when I was expected to review the proofreader’s corrections, I found this process very time consuming and difficult.
The production editor helped, but it was my job to go through the digital file for the last time and ensure it was ready. Also the temptation to make changes and additions even at that late stage was really tough to resist, but I knew it wouldn’t serve the book or me well.
Cards on the table, it would have been easier for me, and probably better for the book, to have had a designated a single developmental editor to help me analyze the feedback from all members of The Hundred and decide what changes were most important.
As it happened, I worked with Upturn and the project editor to make a lot of the tough calls internally, and that can be difficult when it’s your first book. An objective voice could have been the sounding board I needed. In the future, I will absolutely have a single developmental editor in addition to a group of beta readers.
Because of the way the developmental editing was done, the copy editing was a bit heavier than we expected. Another reason I would do it a little differently next time. I would also look into having a line editor and a copy editor; in other words separate the line editing that deals with the art of the prose from the technical copy editing that deals with correctness.
Hands down, I'm extremely proud of what I accomplished in Blood, Ink & Fire. As a writer and creative person, though, I'm never satisfied with my work. Now, I'm channelling everyting I've learned from the first book in the Blood, Ink & Fire series to make the second book that much better. Objectively I know that my writing and my craft will only improve from here on out.
One note on the line editing / copyediting phase
In my writing career to date I’ve worked on a good number of children's books (digital and picture books) and have seen very good line/copyediting and very bad line/copyediting, thankfully not on Blood, Ink & Fire. Bad line/copyediting is difficult to spot at first, if you’re new to the process. But when you see it done well you learn to recognize it instinctively. These are some of the characteristics of good line/copyediting, from my experience:
1) The copy edited manuscript is returned with an extensive style guide of all special terms and conventions used. Stylistic choices are noted. It is thorough. I repeat, thorough.
2) The manuscript is FULL of comments. They will be everywhere, from beginning to end.
3) There are questions in the comments, asking you for clarification, additions, or revisions. If you’re not asked to do anything, it’s a bad line/copy edit. If you’re not faced with comments that make you seriously consider the words on the page, it’s probably not a line/copy edit.
4) There are deletions. That is, parts of your writing are GONE. Sometimes they are suggested deletions. Sometimes not. A hard deletion is usually there for a reason and the manuscript is almost always better for it, in my experience anyway.
5) There are track changes. Lots of them. I can’t stress this enough. You should see your document change and you should be able to follow those changes with the track changes feature. There should not be a gap of 20 pages with zero changes. If there are, well then you’re either the reincarnation of Shakespeare or your editor was asleep at the wheel.
6) You have one or more epiphanies about your writing and use of language (and maybe the story, too) while you’re reviewing the comments. This definitely happened to me. The job of the copy editor is to probe your writing, ask you questions and help you clarify the words on the page. Seeing your writing through another’s eyes is incredibly illuminating. It is a moment when you’re able to step outside your role as the author and see the book as a reader would see it.
In my case I realized I tend to overwrite a lot and explain things to the reader that don’t need to be explained. Conversely, there are places where I leave too much out hoping that the reader will infer exactly what I want them to. This is just my tendency, but I definitely learned a great deal about myself as a writer while going through the line/copyedit.
Conclusion and a weird Peter Pan metaphor
So there you have it, the editorial process from start to finish. With the benefit of hindsight, I will definitely do some things differently down the line, like make sure I have a single developmental editor to help with the big picture instead of many. It’s difficult to see the forest for the trees when you’re knee deep in the thicket of editing. The developmental editor's job is to see the whole forest when you cannot.
Editing a novel is tough work, and no matter what your editorial setup is, it's really important to have a captain at the helm of the ship to steer the course. This person must share your vision for the novel and understand what you as the author want to achieve. Sometimes your captain will be ruthless and that's a good thing. Because when it comes to making the tough calls, you need a Captain Hook, not a Smee.