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How long does the editing process take?

Updated: Jan 18, 2022

Revised January 18, 2022

One of the most frequently asked questions we get at Path To Publishing from authors who are new to the editing process is “How long does editing take?”

To answer that question, it helps to understand the purpose of editing and the stages of the editing process before a rough timeline can be constructed. The purpose of this article is to answer the question and provide insights into the realities surrounding editing so that authors know what to expect and are prepared to do the work required to take their manuscript from rough draft to polished manuscript.

The Purpose of Editing

The purpose of editing is to remove, to the greatest degree possible, the obstacles between a reader picking up a book and a reader finishing it. This means that every aspect of the book needs to be examined thoroughly to ensure a manuscript meets the necessary requirements for it to be an enjoyable read. After all, the more enjoyable the reading, the more likely the reader is to finish it.

The 6 Stages of Editing

To those on the outside of the publishing industry, the word “editing” conjures up images of someone going through the pages of a manuscript fixing missed commas and correcting misspellings. However, while proofreading – which is what that describes – is part of the editing process, it is not the whole picture.

There are 6 different stages of editing that any manuscript will go through before it is truly ready to meet the reader.

1. Self-Editing

This is the first and, maybe, most difficult stage. The reader combs through their own writing and looks for anything that would break the reader’s immersion:

· Timeline errors: Events taking place in a sequence that is impossible or unlikely

· Continuity errors: Claims made in one part of the manuscript don’t match with claims made in another part

· Factual errors: The writer makes claims or represents situations in a way that readers who are knowledgeable about the subject will find too unbelievable/laughable to keep reading

· Wandering narratives: Areas of the manuscript that stray from the intended message or overall purpose of the work

· Lag points: Areas of the manuscript where the writer drags things out without moving the plot forward for no particular reason

· Rushing the narrative: The pacing is too quick for readers to get enough of an idea of what is happening and why

· Repetitive or “clutch” phrases: repetition of certain words or phrases so often that the reader becomes annoyed by them

· Grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors

Once the author is 99.9% certain they have removed as much of this as possible, the manuscript is ready for the next stage of editing.

2. Structural Editing

The job of the structural editor is to take a look at what the author is promising on the back of the book and be sure there is a clear and definite match to it in the content that is provided. They will also be looking at the structure of the manuscript to ensure the content included is presented in a clear, logical manner, which leads the reader from where they are to where they want to be by the time the book ends. Their job is to point out to the writer any gaps between what is presented and what is needed to deliver on what was promised and to make recommendations about how to fill those gaps or what content to remove that takes away from the goal.

3. Content Editing

This editor’s job is to go through the manuscript’s content with an eye toward how the manuscript works as a whole. They are going to look at the timeline, the continuity, the pacing and timing of the plot. They help ensure that the flow of the narrative makes it easy and enjoyable for the reader to get from beginning to end.

4. Copy Editing

This editor’s job is to tighten up the manuscript, focusing on word choice and overall writing quality. They will be the ones who work to remove repetitive or “clutch” phrases.

5. Line Editing

Line editors literally go line by line through the manuscript making sure each sentence is clear. They will break up run-on sentences and simplify language. They will watch out for clichés and remove them.

6. Proof reading

This is the final step of editing. This editor’s job is to catch spelling and grammar mistakes as well as punctuation and formatting. They are your final guardian in your quest to deliver an error-free manuscript that is polished and elegantly presented to the reader.

A Rough Editing Timeline

In most cases, the editing process takes anywhere from 3-6 months. The timeline depends on three things:

1) How much work the author did to clean up the manuscript before handing it over to a professional editing team

2) How quickly the editing team can get through each round

3) How quickly the writer can make the recommended revisions and get it back to the editing team

Each round of editing by the editing team itself can take between two to four weeks to complete. There can be multiple rounds of content editing before a manuscript is ready to move on to copy editing.

There can be multiple rounds of copy editing before it is ready to move on to line editing. There should be at least two different sets of eyes doing the proof reading – and those eyes should not be the same ones that participated in previous rounds of editing.

It’s too easy for the brain to see what it expects to see rather than what is actually there, which is how problems get overlooked and mistakes get left in that should be taken out. One of our clients once had three people review a cover before publication only to have the cover released with a typographical error that was pointed out by a reader. Please note this incident occurred before the author became our client.

Fortunately, our client was using print on demand and eBooks for this particular project, so correcting the mistake was a matter of uploading a new version. Imagine if thousands of copies of that book had been ordered with the cover mistake!

What Can Hold Editing Up

As mentioned in the last section, the biggest hold up is usually in how quickly the author implements the recommended changes from the editing team. There may also be questions the editor needs the author to answer and these can add additional delays.

Budgeting for the Time Needed to Properly Edit

One of the editors on our team shared a story about a client she’d worked with early on in her editing career. Against that editor’s best advice, the client decided to schedule a book launch for just six weeks after the editor received the manuscript.

Three weeks into the editing process, the book was handed off to a beta reader to review who pointed out a huge flaw: The book was not delivering on what was promised on the back of the book. It was like having poured the foundation and then having someone point out that the floorplan of the foundation was not a match for the blueprints.

The editor did manage to rise to the occasion and get the book back to the author in the nick of time to make the deadline and save the author’s event, but it cost the client considerably more to print because she had to go through a local printer rather than being able to order in bulk.

The bottom line: Allow sufficient time for the editing process to be gone through when scheduling a book launch or starting up a marketing campaign.

Get a Free Editing Quote from our Team

It’s not easy to find a good editing team. At Path To Publishing, we’ve worked with our editors for years and the right editors for an author’s needs are always a phone call away. To get an editing quote and free sample edit, email the first three chapters to


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