Why Editing is the Most Important Step Before Publishing Your Book

The true purpose of editing is to make your book the best it possibly can be for readers. To help, here’s our guide to what’s involved in book editing before publishing your masterpiece.
Once book editing is complete, you can be certain that your book is good enough to publish; hence editing is the most important step in the publishing process. But as a first-time author, you can easily be baffled by jargon when looking for the right person to help with your manuscript. Editorial services are widely available, offered at different levels by freelance book editors or self-publishing agencies. The type and quality of editorial service can make a huge difference to the final published work, which can in turn help you avoid painful rejections or, if self-publishing, negative reader reviews.

The true purpose of editing is to make your book the best it possibly can be for readers.

To help, here’s our guide to what’s involved in book editing before publishing your work.

What's the first step?

Before sending your manuscript to an editor, take time to self-edit your book. Start by writing down a short description of your ideal reader or sketching them and envisage yourself in their shoes - reading it for the very first time. Difficult, when you’ve spent hours writing those words, but not impossible! We really rate this book - Self-editing for Fiction Writers - to help you.

The next steps are:

1. Manuscript review is also known as an editorial review or critique - where a publisher or an editor will briefly assess your manuscript. This will establish which levels of editing your book will need. It is common to do four or five edits before moving on to typesetting, to save time in re-working the page layouts later. And, yes, professional editing is essential if you want your books to become a commercial source of income for you.
2. Content editing is also known as a structural edit or a developmental edit - where your editor works on the story to improve it from the reader's perspective. For non-fiction books, this step makes sure the information flows in a logical order and suits the level of your desired reader. For instance, if you’ve written a beginners’ guide, the editor will ensure you’ve not missed any critical information for novices. In works of fiction, they’ll look at plotting and themes as well as the characters, how the dialogue works, and whether there is enough information given or too much about their back-story.
3. Line editing is where the editor will refine your writing. They review the overall writing style to ensure it’s consistent throughout the book. And they improve sentence structure and syntax by marking up your manuscript with suggested changes. (Do you have to accept them all? - covered below.)
4. Copy-editing - this stage is often confused with the line editing because they do overlap somewhat. You’d expect every professional editor to correct spelling, grammar errors and punctuation, which, of course, they do, but this is a separate stage of editing because it specifically highlights any technical issues with the language. The copy-editor will also mark up the manuscript with any changes.
5. Proofreading - many authors ask friends and family to review their manuscript for any spelling errors, but publishers always use a professional proofreader, so if you’re self-publishing and want to be taken seriously, then it’s vital to do the same. Technically, proofreading is not part of book editing at all, but a separate stage in the publishing process that should be done before the final manuscript is typeset. Corrections are simple to implement at this stage, whereas changes after typesetting risk a delay in publication. (However, with changes in technology, proofreading can also be done before typesetting... and ideally it should be done before and after for the highest level of accuracy.)


What will your editor look for?

It depends which stage of editing they are working on and what previous experience they have. At SilverWood, we pair up authors with editors who have previously dealt with similar genres because the pre-existing knowledge can add huge value to the content editing process. SilverWood author Pam Gregory cites here how brilliant her proofreader was, because she was so well grounded in philosophy and spirituality relating to the book content as she checked it.

In short, the structural editor will look at whether you’ve answered questions raised by earlier sections in your text. The line editor and copy-editor will ensure the sentences flow well and the grammar works favourably for the material presented. It’s not essential to stick rigidly to the quirks of English grammar- sometimes it’s better to preserve the meaning of the sentences by using more natural language.

How long does book editing take?

It depends how long your manuscript is and the number of edits required before moving onto typesetting and proofreading. Each stage of book editing can take around 14 working days, sometimes more, for about 40-60,000 words with time elapsing while you consider the edits. A professional publisher will give you a time plan, so you know how quickly they need to hear back from you. And if you are self-publishing, do let your publisher know if you are aiming for a specific launch date.

If you’re set on working with a mainstream publisher, expect the whole process to take a lot longer. A commissioning editor may acquire the rights to your book after critiquing it, but it can then take a year or eighteen months before it’s ready to launch on bookshelves.

Can book editing get me a publishing offer?

If you are submitting your manuscript to mainstream publishers, you might hire a freelance editor before you send it. As described, the editor’s role is to make the book the best it can be, which is seemingly logical if you want a third party to invest in your success. But be prepared for the frustration of subsequent rounds of editing if successful, because most publishers rely on their in-house editorial process. In fact, some will only make you an offer after they’ve done their own editorial review (see Manuscript review above).

Do I have to accept all the changes made by the editors?

When your editors send over their changes to your manuscript, you have a choice whether to make the case for keeping your original text. If you’re working with a mainstream publisher, it’s advisable to respect their professional opinion rather than risk losing your advance.

Self-publishing offers authors a lot more control over the final text, which means you don’t have to accept every minor change. To help with this, our publishing assistants are trained to advise authors on essential versus preferable edits. However, SilverWood Books also has years of publishing experience and if you want to give your book its best chance of commercial success, it’s wise to accept the advice of your professional editors.

What does book editing cost?

The cost of editorial services ranges from a cost per word service up to a complete package price for self-publishing editorial services. Some publishers offer a free manuscript review but you can guarantee they’ll recover the cost of the work in their service pricing or royalties percentage.

We price per thousand words for copy-editing if added as an extra to our publishing service packages.

Our Reader’s Report (here) gives our assessment of the likely commercial appeal of your book. We give feedback on its structure, suitability of chapter length, how well it addresses areas of concern for your target readers, and how well your title works to communicate the essence of the book. For fiction, we will also comment on your characterisation and dialogue.

For more in-depth feedback, our Manuscript Feedback service (here) provides a professional report on the strengths of your work and any areas for improvement. We offer editorial advice which you can apply to your manuscript before submitting the whole of it to a publisher, or confidently going ahead with self-publishing.

If you'd like to discuss your editing needs with one of the SilverWood team, simply book a Discovery Call or drop us a line. We'd love to hear about you and your manuscript, and work out how best to help.

Alternatively, if you're ready to have someone take a close look at your manuscript and give you some feedback on what's working, and what might be improved, then please try one of the links below...

Level 1 Manuscript Feedback

Level 1 Manuscript Feedback

An editorial critique of your manuscript up to 30,000 words


£277.00 plus £55.40 VAT

Level 2 Manuscript Feedback

Level 2 Manuscript Feedback

An editorial critique of your manuscript up to 80,000 words


£557.00 plus £111.40 VAT

Reader's Report

Reader's Report

Our cost-effective quick-start overview of your first 50 pages


£94.00 plus £18.80 VAT

“If you’re thinking of self-publishing, I hope you don't go at it alone. With a team like SilverWood behind you, you have the support you need to publish the best work you believe in.”

J A Higgins