A Simple Guide to the Fiction Editing Process

If you haven’t worked with an editor before, or have and would still like some straightforward advice, why not have a read of my simple guide to the fiction editing process.

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Photo Nick Morrison

There are several stages in the editing process so it’s no wonder writers find it confusing. I’ve created a simple guide to show you the editing route.

Big picture edits

Beta read

Beta reads are usually done when a writer has completed their final draft. The book is sent out to test readers who give feedback on aspects such as plot, characters, structure and readability.

These test reads are often done for free by people in writing or critiquing groups. However, some freelance editors offer this as one of their paid services.

A beta read is useful because it’s an edit done from the perspective of a reader and is therefore a good test of the book’s impression on its target audience.

It is best to have a few beta readers – perhaps 3 or 4. Ideally, they should be readers of the genre you are writing in and able to be honest in their feedback. Sometimes friends and family are not a good fit for beta readers as they find it difficult to say what they really think for fear of upsetting the author.

If time isn’t on your side, you might decide to skip the beta read stage, and instead move to a structural edit.

Structural/ developmental edit

Like a beta read, a structural or developmental edit examines the component parts –plot, character, structure and form. The editor will give feedback on what works and what doesn’t along with ways to address these. If appropriate, they will also assess the book against the conventions of its genre.

Because a bigger picture edit could mean major changes to the story, it is important it happens before the sentence level edits to avoid unnecessary cost.

Manuscript evaluation

For those on a smaller budget, this can be a good alternative to a full structural edit. An editor will read your work and see what works and what doesn’t. This analysis is presented in a report with suggestions of how to improve the story but no alterations are made to the actual text. The writer can use this advice to make any bigger picture changes themselves.

Sensitivity Reading

This is a specialist editing service which checks for cliché, bias and non-inclusive content. It focuses on sensitive topics such as representations of gender, political beliefs, religious beliefs, sexuality, age, race and culture.

Sentence level edits

Line edit

As the name suggests, this type of edit is performed on a line-by-line basis. It addresses writing style to ensure a text is smooth and effective and examines word choice, sentence structure and syntax. Flow is also considered to make sure it is logical and encourages the reader to keep turning the pages.

Many editors (myself included) offer a combined line and copyedit service as they complement each other and can be done at the same time. This approach can also be more cost-effective for the author.


A copyedit’s function is to remove distractions that would spoil the reader’s enjoyment of a book. It looks for spelling mistakes, grammar and punctuation errors and inconsistencies, for example in the spelling of names and how numbers are presented. The standardisation of such corrections is usually presented to the author in a style sheet.    

Sample Edit

Sample edits are offered by some editors as an alternative to a full line and or copy edit. A sample of 1000 words is treated in the same way as a full manuscript. Comments are noted on the text and a report written. The cost is less and some writers use this to decide if they wish to work with that particular editor. Other writers use the points addressed in the sample edit as a guide and apply them to the remainder of their work.


This is the final stage of the editing process. You could call it quality-control. As well as checking for the usual spelling, grammar and punctuation errors, a proofread checks for a consistent layout, that all fonts used are correct and that there are no extra spaces. Once this has been done, the book is ready to be published.

Tracey Chick is a line and copyeditor specialising in historical fiction and narrative nonfiction.

She is a member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading.

Visit her website at Tracey Chick, connect on Twitter at @WriterTjc, LinkedIn and Facebook.

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