The Editing Process: What to Expect When Working With A Professional Editor

After you’ve given your first draft at least one good and thorough revision/rewrite, you can start thinking about submitting your manuscript to a professional editor.

Here’s what you can expect.

Developmental Edit

The first level of editing a professional will undertake is a developmental edit regardless of how many developmental edits and revisions you’ve already done. (If you find an editor who offers to skip this level of editing, I’d say find another one.) The more “finished” the draft you submit to your editor (whether it’s the second or the sixth), the better equipped she’ll be to give you clear and helpful feedback (and probably in less time).

This is why I recommend you do the best developmental edit and revision you can for yourself first (and be open to doing more than one) before you send your work off to a professional.

Your editor will read through your manuscript with a focus on the same key points you used when doing your own developmental edit. The difference is that she will come to your work with a complete outsider’s view. This is invaluable.

After being with your manuscript for so long, even after multiple passes, you’ll miss gaps in meaning and wrinkles in organization. Your editor will approach your manuscript as an objective reader, which will allow her to make your already good manuscript even better.


At this stage, you will implement your editor’s valuable recommendations.

Developmental Edit / Heavy Line Edit

The next step in the editing process could be a combination development/heavy line edit. Or, if you’ve been able to get your manuscript in good enough shape, you may begin working with a professional editor at this stage. (How will you know? See my next post on how to find an editor.)

During this process, your editor will take another aerial view of your work and begin to move deeper into the manuscript. This step will likely be the biggest investment, in terms of time and money but what you’ll get is a thorough read-through and in-depth comments (both in your document and in an accompanying review/report) on how to improve your manuscript in the areas mentioned above, as well as at the paragraph/line level.


You’ll complete another revision/rewrite, depending on the recommendations of your editor

Line Edit #2 / Copy Edit

Depending on the condition of the manuscript you initially submitted to your editor and the revisions you complete, a second line edit might be necessary. This level of editing usually addresses the stylistic aspects of writing to ensure a smooth transition and read on the sentence level and from one line to the next. Or, you and your editor might decide that it’s time to move on to the next stage, copyediting, which focuses on grammar, punctuation, and diction. Sometimes a second line edit and a copy edit are combined.


Depending on your manuscript, your preference, and your editor’s recommendation you may do yet another revision to incorporate the recommendations of the second line edit, or you and your editor may decide it’s time to move into proofreading mode, which focuses on making sure the manuscript is typo-free.

Here’s a condensed version of the stages of the editing process.


  1. Take your manuscript to an editor who knows to begin with a developmental edit.
  2. Do your revisions / rewrites.
  3. Return your manuscript to your editor for a developmental edit/heavy line edit. (Depending on your manuscript, only a heavy line edit may be in order.)
  4. Make another round of changes based on editorial recommendations.
  5. Do another line edit / copy edit or move to proofreading.

Some advice

Avoid doing every step yourself. We live in a very DIY world these days, and it’s easy to think we can create a book from start to finish and do all the stages—from conception to publishing—well.

This is oftentimes done in the interest of saving money (understandable) and not wanting to relinquish control (also understandable). The bottom line, though, is this: If you’ve spent so much of your precious time getting your meaningful stories and brilliant ideas onto the page, complete the follow through.

The follow through is getting your manuscript to the polished, professional stage. After our eyes have been on a project for so long, we miss things, even with breaks in between revisions. Having a caring, professional eye on your work is what your manuscript deserves.