How to edit a book: a writer’s guide to understanding the process

I have been working as an editor with self-publishing authors for several years now. A year and a half ago my work load grew so big I had to expand and form a team. Since that point I’ve become a senior editor, and recently, thanks to connecting with some great talent my editing company is expanding into a publishing services company with a publishing division.

As time goes on, my duties for my company mean I get to spend less and less time involved directly in editing, but I am still heavily involved in the editing process as I work on a more “meta” level through training apprentices and directing the team on editorial standards. But still, in my heart, I am an editor, and a large part of that is because in my heart of hearts, I’m a writer.

One thing that has been on my to-do list for more than a year now has been to write a manual on editing. Such a document was meant to be internal, something in-depth for my editors to consult, since (to the best of my knowledge) no such book exists. Imagine that: a book called “How to Edit a Book”. I sure wish I’d picked that up when I decided I wanted to try my hand as an editor. I suspect it’s never been done before because the subject is so nuanced and one editor’s opinion cannot account for the body of editing practices as a whole. You can ask any editor and most will tell you the same thing: in order to learn how to edit, you need to read a lot of books, consult various manuals and read up on writing craft and techniques, and get practice by apprenticing under a more senior editor.

I agree with all three parts of that, and indeed my path to being an editor involved following each one, but nonetheless, I have a to-do list item to cross off, and limited time with which to do so. Given that I devote a set period of time every week to preparing an article for the writers who I like to help, it made sense to me that, instead of being overly ambitious and writing a book on editing, or being insular and writing manuals for my team only, why not cover all the bases.

How to edit a book: a comprehensive guide via blog series

Starting next week, I’m going to start a blogging thread that will be ongoing, a “book in progress” of sorts. Though book is the wrong way to think about it because in my mind I don’t see there being an exact beginning or end or reason to read the things as a whole.

For the last several weeks, as I’ve explored topics on writing, I have been building a content directory (and will continue to build it based on the red slippers that fall out of each post), the equivalent of a table of contents. I’ve also been asking the editors on my team to send me topic requests and I’ve been organizing it in the master list accordingly.

Nothing is going to change from what you’re used to seeing. Every Friday I will write something inspiring relating to writing, publishing, or the writer’s lifestyle. However, periodically I will add another installment to this series on how to edit a book.

Based on the feedback and requests I receive, I may write a post weekly just on this topic, in addition to my Friday post. This would mean one day of the week is devoted to the editing series and you can look forward to the next installment in your morning inbox every day that week.

My goal is that, long-term, both my editors, and writers / other aspiring editors will have a great reference on editing and how it works. The good thing about doing it this way is it doesn’t mean adding an extra duty to my mountain of duties. (Apologies to any Lan Mandragoran fans for butchering his eloquent expression.)

Stay tuned for the first in the series: proofreading, what it is, how it works, and techniques to do it effectively for yourself or someone else.

If you have any topic requests please leave them below! I can write endlessly on topics and will organize my topic directory accordingly, but my goal with this series is to be as comprehensive as possible, so why not make this a community endeavor.


Topics so far (this will be updated as installments are added):

About John Robin

John Robin is an epic fantasy writer, professional editor, and lover of imaginary worlds. He write stories about magic and myth, human suffering and the power to rise above it. He loves world building, coffee shops, mathematics, chess, and is an avid author community builder.
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2 Responses to How to edit a book: a writer’s guide to understanding the process

  1. paula cappa says:

    Great idea. I will look forward to your blog. For writers and editors, a lists of good reference books is essential if you are serious about editing your own work. A lot of new writers don’t know about CMS or Fowler’s Modern English Usage. And dictionaries! Which dictionary do you think is recommended for fiction? There’s quite a choice of dictionaries out there now. I prefer Miriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary 10th edition because it gives the recorded date of usage for a word. For example ‘shimmy’ wasn’t used until 1919 so if you are writing an historical piece in the 1800s, that word would not be authentic. Most other dictionaries don’t offer dates on word usage.

    • John Robin says:

      Hi Paula, I’ll definitely be doing a few posts on reference books (since there are great books for different types of editing), but regarding dictionaries, I usually consult multiple sources online, especially whenever modern words, or words that seem contextual, creep into something historical. Knowing origin linguistically as well as chronologically is quite important (I consider each time I have to look one up a boon for getting a better handle on words in my own writing arsenal).

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