Let’s be honest – your book is going to spend far longer in the ‘editing’ stage than the ‘drafting’ stage. The blank page might be daunting, and spending hours deliberating over outlines or character sheets might feel like the most agonizing part of crafting a manuscript, but the sheer reality is that editing, in all its forms, will be where you spend the longest amount of time.

Today’s writing post (thanks to everyone on Twitter!) takes a look at The Three Stages of Editing.

I define the three stages of editing as Structural Edits,  Detailing Edits, and Copyediting.

Structural Edits

The beginning stage of editing takes place after you’ve completed your first draft. I recommend taking a breather after you finish writing your manuscript, probably a few weeks to let everything settle in your mind. During this break, you should be thinking about the structure of your book, the things that did or didn’t work, and the areas you naturally know needed to be removed – or plot arcs you want to add.

The structural edits are the aggressive edits – think of them as a sledgehammer, because these edits will likely remove just as much as they add. In fact, it’s not uncommon for you to lose 10% or more of your total word count in this round of edits, particularly when removing extraneous chapters or scenes.

This is the time to address overall plot arcs and make large changes to your book.

Detailing Edits

I call the second stage of editing your detailing, where you take the structurally sound manuscript and start adding those missing details. These edits will take your manuscript and start to polish it, producing something that’s more realistic and defined than before.

For instance your detailing might include:

  • Refining character personalities and relationships
  • Expanding the lore and world-building with smaller details
  • Improving prose and overall narrative flow

What’s important to remember is that this stage is the longest stage of editing and you will repeat it multiple times. This type of editing often requires two or more passes over your manuscript to properly address all the outstanding issues, and to end up with a manuscript that’s almost finished.

When you’ve detailed your book sufficiently, you can move onto the final edits.

Side Note: Beta Stage

At this point in your manuscript’s lifecycle, you should decide if having beta-readers or critique partners is right for you. Opening your novel up to the beta stage is oftentimes a daunting thought, but it’s a very rewarding experience and gives you an opportunity to ‘road test’ your book with real readers. You’ll want to send the beta out now, because if – when – the betas provide comments, you may need to undertake edits, and you won’t want to undo copyedits.

I once talked about Beta Readers on Rae Oestreich’s blog – check it out!


The last stage of your manuscript’s journey is the copyediting stage. Strangely enough, despite the previous two stages being the most creatively intensive, this final stage oftentimes proves the most vital of all three stages – and can also be the hardest.

The final stage requires you to analyze your book with a fine-toothed comb, in what’s otherwise known as line-edits. Here, you check each line for grammatical and syntactical flaws, dialogue hiccups, continuity flaws, inconsistent POV, impossible knowledge, and every other type of minor glitch that you’ve probably overlooked in the previous stages.

Your eye naturally ‘fills in the blanks’, and as the author, you know what you meant in a scene – which contributes to your eye skipping over missing words. Oftentimes reading digitally puts you at a disadvantage, as our mind has been trained to skim-read on the computer more than other mediums, so I recommend printing your manuscript physically and using a red pen to mark copyedits, then transcribe these into your digital manuscript.

This is the one of the more frustrating parts of editing, but in the end, it will produce a book that’s polished and ready to be submitted to agents, publishers, or self-published as you see fit.

These are my three stages of editing! What stage is your book in? Do you have your own advice? Share this post via Social Media and discuss, or drop a comment below.