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Why Does It Take So Long to Edit My Book?

floyd-largent-headshotby Floyd Largent, editor

While most writers are patient about the length of the book editing process, I suspect every editor has had clients who have pestered them to “Just get on with it” and “Hurry up, already.” Those are usually the same ones unhappy with the results, because you’ve had to scurry and not do your best work to meet their deadlines. I’ve learned my lesson there; while I do speed up when pressured, especially if I have been taking an unusually long time to do the work due to unforeseen circumstances, I still maintain my quality control. Good editing requires careful reading, an in-depth comprehension of the story and characters, and dedication to correcting as many errors as possible—which means multiple editing passes, a final proofread, and maybe even a continuity revision if you’ve edited the book in stages, as is often the case.

The long and short of it is that the editor wants to do as good a job as possible, and get your book as close to final as possible. Publishers prefer to see a manuscript that’s already edited, because these days they don’t have the funds or personnel to do their own line or copy edits. They’re more likely to tell you which sections they want rewritten or improved upon, and turn the manuscript back over to you. The shorter we can make that process, the better; and besides, a well-edited book simply looks better.

Getting it there takes time and care.

I typically spend 6-12 weeks on editing a book, depending on the size; more, if it’s a magnum opus of 150,000+ words. After more than a decade in the Book Editing Associates network, I’ve learned through trial and error what works best for me: I always do a minimum of three editing passes, or a minimum of four if I’m editing a book in sections. For the first pass, I typically edit a minimum of 10-15 pages a day, with each subsequent pass consisting of 20-40 pages per day. The first pass is the hardest, because that’s when the majority of edits, developmental work, and rewrites take place. The second pass is the cleanup pass, where I fix anything I missed or accidentally introduced. The third pass is mostly a final read-through for continuity and sense; and, yes, I usually pick up a few more typos or misplaced punctuation marks.

After I finish my third (or fourth) edit, I pass the manuscript on to a proofreader, who reviews the text for misspellings, improper grammar, and other typographical issues. Occasionally, she also makes more substantial suggestions about the plot. I then take her comments and incorporate them into the manuscript, whereupon I do a final spell check and formatting check before returning the manuscript to the writer. I always make it clear that I’m ready to do any revisions until they’re satisfied (within reason), but most don’t take me up on it.

You may ask why I do only 10-15 pages per day on the initial edit. That’s because my schedule tends to be fully booked; as I understand it, most editors have similar schedules. I’m usually working on 3-4 books at a time, with the odd short story or query letter thrown in. In addition to editing, I’m also an active writer, with a number of legacy clients I write for regularly. I work six days a week from 8:30 AM to as late as midnight (though not always!), with a couple of two-hour breaks for lunch and dinner, so I stay pretty busy. On top of that, I often need to schedule work in the future as other projects wind down, so it can take a while before I can get started on your edit.

Other editors may have different work processes, but I imagine they’re similar to mine. Our network is known for its quality control and high customer satisfaction; we take our work very seriously, treat our clients fairly, and want to give you the very best return for your money that we can provide. We can’t guarantee that your book will be published—the traditional publishing market is very competitive at the moment—but we’ll do our utmost to help you get it as close to perfection as possible. That takes time, but it’s time well spent.

Keep writing!


Floyd Largent enjoys working with writers and is particularly gratified when he can impart some of his hard-won knowledge of manuscript mechanics and submission.

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