I’m not an expert on the editing process of every place that buys your books. I have, however, gone through the process at Swimming Kangaroo Books, so I have a good idea of what they expect and what their process is. Below is a brief rundown of their editing stages. Please remember that these are general stages. Any of the editors will frequently make suggestions affecting any part of your manuscript at any time. My content editor often touched on copy editing just as my continuity editor frequently also looked at content.
This is the first editor you will encounter. From my experience so far, the content editor is the person who will give you the most work. The content editor looks at several things...the overall structure of the book and how well the manuscript is organized. She/he looks at how well developed the plot and characters are. Pace, organization, motives, subplots, and the overall tone of the book are also areas of importance. As a rule, this is a rather substantive edit that may leave the author a bit frustrated because there is so much to do. It is possible that when you look at your first edit you will be appalled at the amount of red all over it. This is fairly normal. Just remember, the content editor is your friend. Your editor’s job is to help you rewrite and prepare your manuscript for publication. This first relationship could last for weeks, or even months, with a slew of e-mails passing between you and the editor while ideas get hashed out. It is your editor’s job to challenge you on your writing so as to make the overall book much better. The content editor looks for poor explanations, wrong assumptions, fuzzy logic, factual errors, POV difficulties, and overall sloppiness. The editor’s job is to suggest clearer explanations and anecdotes because the reader does not always know what was going through your head when you wrote a particular sentence. The content editor looks for gaps in the story, leaps of logic, head hopping as you jump from one character to another’s pov without cause or reason, all while maintaining the general tone of your manuscript. In my first book my content editor suggested that I make major changes to sentence structure, that I move entire paragraphs, and that I look at the motivations behind some of my characters. My editor also red-inked huge portions of my work. The first edit that you receive from your Content Editor can be daunting, but the work involved is worth it because the end result is so much better than what you started with.
Okay, this person is also amazing. The continuity editor goes through your entire manuscript looking for all the little things that you accidentally changed or did not quite get right. The editor looks at the continuity of your storyline, of the action, and even makes sure that the dialog of your characters remains consistent throughout the book in tone, punctuation, and feel. More than that, the continuity editor makes sure that Ann’s eyes remain blue and that Aaron is still five feet five inches tall throughout the entire book. The editor looks for factual errors, and from my experience they are pretty good at it. My editors found small errors in character development that were located more than two hundred pages apart. The continuity editor makes sure the setting remains constant, and that your continuity remains unbroken. They make sure that if your character has a lit cigarette dangling from between his lips in one scene that he does not later use those same lips to kiss the girl...unless he gets rid of the cigarette first.
The drudgery of the miniscule. The copy editor, also called the line editor, looks at every line of the manuscript, looking at word usage, and again, looking at style and tone. The copy editor checks for spelling and punctuation and grammar, and there is often a lot to be found. When you have written and rewritten a book it becomes very familiar to you, so much so that your eyes frequently pass over mistakes that you have seen again and again because you are too familiar with the work. Double periods at the end of a sentence. Periods where question marks belong, or perhaps you depended a bit too much on your spell checker. Even such simple things as to hyphenate certain words falls within their realm. The copy editor looks for passive voice, smoothes out the sentences, and works at making sure that paragraphs transition well. In short, they are your defense in those areas where the inevitable bit of sloppy writing has slipped in. It is not uncommon for copy editors and authors to have serious differences of opinion on strange spellings, or voice. However, it is best to remember that their main goal is to make you look good, so have patience with their suggestions.
Your last line of defense. The proofreader looks for typos and formatting errors before your book goes to press. They are the quality check to make sure nothing has been missed by the copy editor. The proofreader looks for minor mistakes, for correct layout, and for inconsistencies. Since the book is almost ready for press, nothing major is done at this time. No huge rewrites or large changes. In fact, the author might not even see the manuscript after this edit.
And there you have it, the four stages I am familiar with. Time consuming, a lot of work, but the end result of going through the process was well worth it. The editors I had on my first work were very considerate of my muse, but they were also very insistent that several errors in consistency, layout, and sentence formation be corrected. Individually, none of the errors they found or the changes they suggested were huge or glaring, but by the end of the process the cumulated changes created a work that was easily twice as good as the original. In short, I love my editors for what they helped me create.