You’ve finished your manuscript, and now it’s time to find an editor. You know your book needs a professional edit, and you want to know what that process will entail. Will your editor understand your story as you’ve intended to write it? How will an editor help you revise your manuscript? And what can you expect when the process is complete? These are common questions, and the entire editing team at Josha—our Copy Editor, our Acquisitions Editor, and even our Editor-in-Chief!—have worked together to answer all of these questions.
Each author-editor dynamic and journey will be unique, although there is a basic formula we try to follow. And because each manuscript is also unique, it’s important that the author feel comfortable with the editor; like any relationship, compatibility is essential. At Josha, our team considers the editing process to be a team endeavor, and our editors work by our author’s sides, not “above” them as a teacher might instruct a student. We respect that your manuscript is yours, and it’s our job as editors to help you refine it into the book you want it to be, not the story we personally might tell. To accomplish this, the editing process can be broken down into three stages: absorption, navigation, and selective consideration.
When an editor receives a manuscript, we must first immerse ourselves in the story as though we’re reading a finished book—after all, the author has finished an entire manuscript, which is an entire book (even if it still needs some polishing). We do this before we even dive into the mechanics of grammar or the organization of the book itself. For fiction, we may ask the author questions about how they developed certain characters or what they want readers to take away from a certain scene. This helps us step further into the author’s word, since the connection between the author’s imagination, the pages of the story, and the reader’s experience is delicate. For memoirs, the absorption stage requires walking alongside the author in their story as much as the author is comfortable with, which is also an important exercise in sharing one’s story with the world, since once a book is published, the author has no control over who may read it or how they may react.
In trauma memoirs especially, the author is often still trying to process these events themselves since healing is a journey and is never truly done. At the same time, it can be difficult to explain your story to people who have never heard it and who don’t personally know you, so part of an editor’s job is to help bridge the connection between the author’s experience and the reader’s understanding. Additionally, as our founder Shanna Hammerbacher wrote earlier this month, writing through trauma is a distinctive experience all its own, one that necessitates a different sort of processing than one might do using another medium. While an editor is not meant to take on a therapist’s role, Josha’s editors are people first—we believe we can use our professional position to validate the myriad of emotions an author may experience in regard to their manuscript, and to do this, we must seek a thorough understanding of the author’s experiences. Ultimately, we may be the author’s first reader and reviewer, and editors must assess each story and work to enhance—not embellish—the parts of the story that are most likely to leave a lasting impact on future readers.
Once the editor has an understanding of the author’s intended story and message, they can begin working together to identify which portions of the manuscript most clearly communicate it and which areas need further attention. This is the navigational stage; the author and editor know the destination the story needs to reach for the readers, and now they must find the most concise and evocative way to get there. It begins when the plot (fiction) or narrative (nonfiction) is clear to the editor.
During this stage, editors will introduce many of the questions below and provide feedback with their answers.
- Are there characters that the reader might bond with better than others, or characters I favor or dislike? Do I have trouble connecting with any of the main or supporting characters? How could I connect to them better so that I’m rejoicing and grieving with them throughout the story?
- Which scenes evoke the most emotion in me? Am I feeling something for or with the characters, or am I feeling something because of the characters? (This is one of several ways we identify potentially triggering material, too.)
- When a chapter ends, do I naturally want to keep reading? Why or why not?
- Is there any other content I’d like to see? (Think of the deleted scenes of a movie—are there any “bonus” scenes that could be added which might make the story better?)
- As I read, what am I learning? Do I feel that my understanding of the world, another way of life, or someone else’s experiences are enhanced?
- Can I picture the author’s experiences and world throughout their narrative and included memories? If not, what would help? If yes, what are the most vivid moments and details, and are those consistent throughout the manuscript?
- Am I able to relate to the author, even if our personal experiences are different? If our experiences are similar, do I feel validated as I read, or like I’m being told someone else’s story?
- What about the author’s message will I carry with me, long after I finish reading?
During this stage, we take detailed notes in order to later provide the author with comprehensive commentary. This commentary will ultimately be given to the author via manuscript comments related to mechanics as well as message impact and a feedback letter, equipping the author with the tools and language necessary for the self-editing process.
As editors, our objective is to convey an author’s lived experiences to a reader who has never met the author. In a sense, it’s an editor’s job to become both a mirror and a window for the author, reflecting their story back to them while showing them where there is still room to think and grow beyond what’s currently on the pages.
As Josha’s authors will attest, sometimes you can make nebulous connections in your stories because they’re your stories, but those connections aren’t always clear to readers, because they don’t have the memories and details of your life that you subconsciously carry, for example. This is where our editors come in, helping to bridge any gaps between your intended story and your written story.
After the absorption, navigational, and selective consideration stages are complete, an editor will return their feedback to the author. The author then has the opportunity to review it and ask any questions for further clarification, or possibly discuss certain portions of that feedback in greater detail. Even though the initial round of editing has been completed, the team is not disbanded—in fact, we believe it’s most beneficial to the manuscript if the author-editor dynamic continues as long as the author and manuscript need.
Throughout the entire process, it’s important to remember that an editor’s notes are suggestions, not decrees. While grammatical rules are, generally, necessitated and set by the language itself, the presentation of the story and voice that tells the story are the author’s alone. An editor is there to help the author find their voice and then ensure that it is magnified, not to rewrite it or reinvent it.
When a manuscript has been completely edited, authors can feel confident their message has been heard, understood, and will ultimately be communicated in the most effective manner to resonate with their audience. And when our authors’ stories resonate with readers, we are able to inspire, encourage, and empower them along their own journeys in life to leave a positive mark on the world.
Editor’s Note: Josha Publishing, LLC, only considers completed manuscripts during the submissions process; however, our editors do take on freelance work and may be contacted via their websites. Please note that the editing process discussed in this post may or may not reflect the process an author experiences if they’ve submitted their manuscript to Josha for publication, as the editorial needs for each manuscript vary.
Josha Publishing, LLC is a woman-founded, woman-owned, and woman-run company that is passionate about books, stories, and the power of words to change lives. Learn more about us here and remember to sign up for our newsletter to find out about new content, new books, and submissions update.
An Editor’s Role