Wednesday, August 2, 2017

How to Edit Your Book – Four ways to look at it

by Sarah (Sally) Hamer @SarahSallyHamer

Okay, you’ve finished the book. Kudos! It was hard, time-consuming, and agonizing, but you finally got it done.

Next step? Send it out to all the agents and editors you’ve been courting, because one of them is going to snatch it up and make you a millionaire.



First, you need to edit that sucker.

Why? Because all too many rejections have nothing to do with what your story is about. Unfortunately, more times than not, it’s about how well it’s written.

So, before you hit that SEND button, let’s discuss editing.

There are four basic types of editing:
  • Developmental Editing
  • Substantive Editing
  • Line Editing
  • Copy Editing

Which one usually gets the most attention?

The least important one - Copy Editing

Why?   Because it’s the easiest!  But it should be the last one, not the first one you do.

Most people who edit those first drafts only move words around, add a comma, or take a comma out. That’s only the tip of a huge iceberg.

So, here’s how editing works:
1. Developmental Editing – the 50,000’ view: This type of editing should be the very first one an author utilizes. It addresses issues at the whole book and whole chapter level, not just at the word level, and can involve massive rewrites. After all, did you know all the ins and outs of your story when you started it? You were probably surprised by at least one new idea as you wrote. So, those things need to be set up earlier in the story, usually through developmental editing. Make sure the plot hangs together.  Make sure character goals, motivations, and conflicts work throughout. Make sure character arcs are strong enough to pull readers in.

2. Substantive Editing – the 5,000’ view: After all the major editing is done, this level allows you to address rewriting, cutting or reordering scenes, pages and paragraphs. Are you building enough tension in each scene? Does each scene pull its weight? Does each chapter end with a hook? How are those secondary characters working out? Is your story logical? Do you tie up all the loose ends?

3. Line Edting – the 500’ view: Here’s where you work on improving paragraphs and sentences through content and structure. Check your syntax, your flow of ideas, your dialogue, your time line. Use power words to amp up the tension. Remember, “flow trumps technique”, according to the amazing Margie Lawson @margielawson so make sure your flow is perfect.

4. Copy Editing – the 5’ view: And, finally, we get to the copy editing. Punctuation, spelling, proper word usage, ‘ing’ words, dialect, throw-away words (such as that, just, very, said), – these are all items that should be addressed. Omit as many adverbs as possible and use strong verbs. Reword your sentences to eliminate extra words. Check your formatting.

So, now you’ve beaten your story up and it’s the best it can be. Here are a couple more hints: 
  • Let the story sit for a couple of days, weeks, months, before you tackle it again. Let it get cold.
  • Re-read, making copious notes as you go.
  • Make a list of your common editing problems. Keep it next to you as you edit and use a red pen as liberally as necessary.
  • Recruit a couple of beta readers – people you can trust to be honest – and listen to them.

Editing can be even harder than the original cut-a-vein-open-and-bleed-on-the-page writing. But it’s worth every minute.

How’s your editing going? Do you have any tips you can add to mine? Worst bug-a-boos?
Join me here over the next four months for an in-depth look at each of the Four Types of Editing!


Sarah (Sally) Hamer is a lover of books, a teacher of writers, and a believer in a good story. Most of all, she is eternally fascinated by people and how they 'tick'. She’s passionate about helping people tell their own stories, whether through fiction or through memoir. Writing in many genres - mystery, science fiction, fantasy, romance, medieval history, non-fiction – she has won awards at both local and national levels, including two Golden Heart finals.

A teacher of memoir, beginning and advanced creative fiction writing, and screenwriting at Louisiana State University in Shreveport for over twelve years, she also teaches online for Margie Lawson at Sally is a free-lance editor and book coach, with many of her students and clients becoming successful, award-winning authors. 

You can find her at or on Twitter @sallyhamer.

I wish to express gratitude to the giants who came before me who taught me so much about the writing craft. I would list every one, if it were only possible.


  1. Wow, thanks for the insightful post!

  2. Love Margie's classes! And great advice here.

    1. Margie is a force to be reckoned with - cliché alert! :) Thanks for the comment!

  3. Spot on--I like the sky high to close up analogies for editing. Graphically illustrates what one sees each step of the process.

  4. Thank you, Marjorie! It just makes so much sense to me to work through the layers.

    Happy writing!

  5. Thank you for defining the different kinds of editing. I have heard of them, but I haven't found such a clear explanation before.