The Growth Stages of Editing a Manuscript by Jennifer J. Chow

The Growth Stages of Editing a Manuscript

by Jennifer J. Chow

The Growth Stages of Editing a Manuscript
Let’s discuss the proper editing and care of a baby manuscript until it reaches maturity. Like any parent, my insight comes from my own subjective experiences with the editorial process and its timetable. Full disclosure: I teamed up with Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House, to raise my baby. Now on to the different editing growth stages of a book:

Title/infancy (variable deadline):
I’d already come up with a working title for my rough draft. Just like when expecting a real baby, though, I needed to make sure my partner and I agreed on it. We ended up switching my original choice to its current rendition: Mimi Lee Gets a Clue.

Tip: Trust your publisher.
I love the new title’s play on words and how it highlights the mystery aspect and all the intricacies of Mimi’s life that she needs to figure out.

Retailer copy/toddlerhood (few days’ turnaround):
At this cute stage, you can dress your story in fancy retailer copy. Known also as a cover blurb (not to be confused with a “blurb” or testimonial from a fellow author), this text provides an enticing summary to catch the eye of a browsing reader.

Tip: Don’t work too hard on an early copy.
I’d decided to write my own blurb for fun, but none of it was used. A team of writers had already created their own—oops! Honestly, their version was much snazzier and fit in better with the vibe of the imprint.

Editorial letter/early childhood (three weeks+ turnaround):
This is the crucial development period. An editorial letter suggests key changes to a story’s arc and can go upwards to eight pages of notes! Mine, fortunately, only had two single-spaced pages. My editor divided the letter into multiple parts, including dialogue (improvements for my protagonist’s speech and her verbal interactions with others), scene setting (more specificity about certain Los Angeles neighborhoods), and side characters (how the main character perceives those around her and the continuity of characters for the series). The letter also delved into the two main relationships in the book. It discussed Mimi and Josh (her love interest) and how their relationship flowed—or when it didn’t. Also, it explored the dynamics between Mimi and her pet cat Marshmallow, along with the zaniness of solving a case with a telepathic cat.

Tip: Expect to invest a lot of time.
I ended up tweaking a number of things—and even added a new scene. (Be forewarned: It may take multiple passes. I went through two rounds of developmental edits.)

Copy edits/middle childhood (two-week turnaround):
The literary foundation is set, but there’s still room for growth. The copyedited manuscript came with a new editor, who examined things with a line-by-line perspective. In addition to sentence structure rearrangement, she also vetted my manuscript for continuity and offered plotting advice.

Tip: Save the provided resources.
The copyedited manuscript had an attached style sheet with references and offered pointers on grammar (proper usage of capitalization, commas, etc.). It also listed characters, vocabulary, and places described in the book, an essential database of information, especially when writing a series.

First pass pages/adolescence (two-to-three-week turnaround):
This is the time when the document gets typeset and looks like a real book in PDF format. Revel in its mature appearance and quirks—my pages had cute details, like whiskers on the chapter headings.

Tip: Changes are costly at this stage.
Try to correct only typos and small errors. (Note: Some people also receive second pass pages.)

Proofreading/adulthood (quick turnaround):
Congratulations on having a full-fledged book! The proofreader will mark down any inconsistencies or confusing points and ask for clarification. (I only received a few questions.)

Tip: Rely on the proofreader.
In my novel, I referenced Scrabble, and the proofreader (who deserves my utmost gratitude) researched letter tiles in depth to make sure my game scene was correctly played out.

That’s the general timeline of a growing book. May your manuscript mature through its multiple revisions and release into the world as an adult novel in the near future.

MIMI LEE GETS A CLUE is the first book in the new Sassy Cat mysteries. It’ll be joined by two other siblings over the next few years and raised by Jennifer J. Chow. Follow her online at or on social media (Twitter, FB, and IG) @jenjchow.