Editorial Process

Following are the basics of what you can expect during the editorial stage of your book. Not all of these steps will apply to every project (and things may look quite different for ghostwriting and manuscript development projects), but the following explains the most common progression of steps needed to get a manuscript ready for production.

Editing is a collaborative process between editor and author and can start at any point in a book’s life, depending on the needs of the project. At Otterpine, our editors strive to be guides and trusted partners in your publication journey, challenging you to make your book the best it can be. But at the end of the day, this is your book, and it is ultimately up to you to decide which of our suggestions to take and which of them to leave.

Step 1: Editorial Assessment

When you send us your completed manuscript, we will first do a quick review to assess what we think it needs in terms of editing, including how many rounds of editing we recommend and a rough hourly estimate for the first round based on manuscript word count and level of editing needed.

Unless your manuscript has already gone through extensive developmental editing with a professional editor, we will likely recommend at least one round of developmental editing with Otterpine. In the rare case that your project arrives to us in “final” form, we will in almost all circumstances recommend a copyediting round before the project is ready for design and layout.

Step 2: Developmental Editing

Developmental editing takes a look at the book as a whole and the big picture it is trying to convey to the audience. In fiction, this type of editing focuses on pivotal story elements and helps address plot holes, character development, dialogue, pacing, and phrasing that may inhibit the audience from understanding the story. In nonfiction, developmental editing addresses issues such as structure and organization, content, tone, clarity of message, and appropriateness for the intended audience. This type of editing can change your relationship with your manuscript and often leads to several rounds of revision.

Developmental editing is meant to challenge you and help you reconsider certain elements that you may not be communicating effectively to the reader. That is why it is important to take this step towards the beginning of your process. Developmental editors are less concerned with things like word choice, punctuation, and grammar, and more focused on ensuring that point A leads to B and B to C. Picture this: you want to build a house, and there are many, many steps that need to get done. However, you realize that you cannot put down your new floors until you have a foundation and walls. This is what developmental editors do: they make sure you have a solid foundation, so later on you can put in those wood floors and custom light fixtures that you love. Overall, developmental editing whacks away at certain elements that prevent the reader from seeing the path ahead of them, and then helps you build the elements that will help your book realize its full potential. 

During the developmental edit, we will do a deep read of your manuscript, editing for substantive, “big picture” issues like macro- and micro-structures, depth and effectiveness of arguments, style, special elements such as exercises, how well it’s delivering on its promise to the reader, clarity of audience, etc. Most of our feedback will be in the form of suggested changes in the text and comments probing you to clarify or deepen certain points. We will not rewrite anything (unless we’ve already discussed a ghostwriting aspect to our role), though we may offer edits to the writing—all edits will be done in Word track changes, so they will be yours to accept or reject. 

The way we usually like to work is to use this time to dive deep into the manuscript, delivering you a complete document at the end containing all our suggestions and queries. We find this works much better than querying you as we go, as editing is most often a non-linear process and it’s important to work with the book as a whole rather than piece by piece. Note that while we may do some editing on the writing itself, it won’t be until the copyedit round that we will do what you can think of as the technical or mechanical editing to ensure the manuscript is following all the rules of grammar, spelling, capitalization, syntax, etc.

Depending on the length of your manuscript, the developmental edit can take anywhere from one to several months. When it is complete, we will deliver a comprehensive editorial letter outlining the big picture issues of your manuscript, as well as marking up your manuscript with notes, questions, suggestions for changes, and some line editing. After you have had a chance to review the editorial letter and notes, it’s often a good idea to meet either in-person or remotely to discuss any questions you may have, to brainstorm and clarify ideas, and to plan your revision path ahead. We can decide on a tentative deadline for your revision, whether you want to have regular check-ins during the revision process, whether you want to deliver chapters one-by-one or submit the whole manuscript at once, etc. As you revise, your editor is always available to answer any questions that come up or to brainstorm ideas.

When your revision is complete, we will work with you to decide if another round of developmental editing or line editing is necessary (for either the whole manuscript or specific sections that need more work), or if the project is ready to go to copyediting.

Step 3: Line Editing

This type of editing is often not necessary as a separate round in itself; instead, it can be included as part of a developmental edit round or heavy copyedit. Most often, it is an aspect of all stages of editing to some extent.

Once the big picture issues like structure and content have been resolved, the line editor will focus on your writing on the sentence and paragraph level, aiming to polish everything in terms of tone, word choice, consistency of voice, flow, and style. This is the type of editing that really makes the words shine. Before you consider having a line editor look at your work, you want to make sure that it has undergone developmental editing and that the foundational aspects of your work are solid. 

Line editing is often an important part of ghostwriting projects (or hybrid editorial/ghostwriting projects), where authors have lots of great ideas but need extra help articulating those ideas with style. Line editing can also be particularly helpful for authors for whom English is a second language, or for people in the academic and business world who need help making the writing more accessible to a mainstream audience.

Similar to the developmental edit, you will receive a manuscript with our changes marked in track changes, with any remaining questions noted in comments. After you have gone through the marked-up manuscript and accepted/rejected our edits, resolved all queries, and completed any final revisions, this clean manuscript will likely be ready for copyedit.


Before moving on to copyediting, you will want to ensure that all quoted material in your manuscript, including references to studies, articles, books, websites, videos, etc., is attributed correctly. We follow Chicago Manual of Style citation conventions, which come in two varieties:

The notes and bibliography system is preferred by many working in the humanities—including literature, history, and the arts. In this system, sources are cited in numbered footnotes or endnotes. Each note corresponds to a raised (superscript) number in the text. Sources are also usually listed in a separate bibliography. The notes and bibliography system can accommodate a wide variety of sources, including unusual ones that don’t fit neatly into the author-date system.

The author-date system is more common in the sciences and social sciences. In this system, sources are briefly cited in the text, usually in parentheses, by author’s last name and year of publication. Each in-text citation matches up with an entry in a reference list, where full bibliographic information is provided.

In general, we prefer the notes and bibliography style. See the links above for thorough instructions, or check out Otterpine’s Quick Guide to Formatting Citations. If you would like help in formatting your citations, we are happy to include that as part of your editorial package.


If you are including any graphics, photos, charts, tables, or reprinting very long passages from third-party sources, you will need to ensure that written permission from the copyright owner has been obtained before we can reproduce this material—and this can delay the whole process if not sorted out early enough. Many sources will simply require proper attribution, but graphics, photos, poems, and song lyrics in particular may sometimes need formal permission, often requiring the payment of a fee. If you need help with the permissions process, please let us know.

Step 4: Copyediting

Copyediting is the last editorial stage before the manuscript goes to design and layout. Copyeditors can be considered the great technicians of the editing world. These are the editors who will ensure the work has proper grammar, spelling, punctuation, and formatting. In the case of nonfiction, a copyeditor can also act as a fact checker and help guarantee that the citations and bibliographic information are complete. In general, copyeditors do not edit for style or content, except in instances where these issues might get in the way of clarity. Otterpine will almost always suggest a copyediting round for every project, regardless of the level of editing you’ve already received. This is to ensure that all our projects are produced at the highest level of quality.

When you receive your copyedited manuscript, you will find corrections in track changes on the issues noted above, as well as queries about any technical inconsistencies, factual errors, repetition, and problems with citations, sources, and footnotes. The copyeditor may also flag potential problems relating to permissions. Your role in this round of editing differs from previous rounds in that you will not accept/reject the edits within the manuscript, though you may note if there are any changes the editor made that you would like to reverse. Your job at this point will be to respond to any remaining queries and to provide confirmation that you accept the changes (and note where you don’t) and give the go ahead for the manuscript to move on to design and layout. Your production manager will then create a clean manuscript that is ready for transmittal to production.

Style Guides & Style Sheets:

These are terms you may hear during the copyediting phase of your project. Mostly, you will not be working directly with them, but it’s important that you understand their role in the editing of your book.

Every publisher has a house Style Guide, which defines the rules the publisher generally follows in terms of word usage, spelling, grammar, etc. to ensure consistent, professional content across all projects. There are also standardized style guides for certain industries, such as the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook for journalism, and the MLA Handbook for academic fields. Trade book publishers (including Otterpine) most often use the Chicago Manual of Style, while also supplementing it with their own house style guides that contain specifics about their house preferences. Otterpine’s Style Guide is a living document that we update regularly.

A Style Sheet can be thought of as a style guide specific to your unique book. It is developed throughout the various editorial phases, especially copyedit. Its purpose is to ensure consistency by communicating the book’s preferences to every editor who works on the book.

A Style Sheet may have many sections that include things such as how numbers should be treated (spelled out after 9 or after 99, for instance); preferred spellings for words that have multiple spellings; any unconventional spellings, capitalizations, or punctuations used; proper spellings of people, places, and titles; acronyms used; and much more. In fiction, a Style Sheet may also include biographical facts about characters and details about the timeline.

Your project’s Style Sheet will be shared with you along with your copyedit, and you are welcome to review it to make sure all the “rules” we’ve collected about your work are correct.

Other Notes About the Editorial Process

  • We use Google Drive for all file sharing, but you should NOT edit your manuscript in Google Docs. Download all files as Word documents and do your writing and revising on your desktop, with track changes on. If you do not own Microsoft Office, we can share a temporary account with you. We want to avoid converting files between Word and Google Docs at all costs, especially if they have heavy footnotes and/or endnotes, as this can cause serious formatting issues and loss of data. 
  • The format we prefer to receive manuscripts: Times New Roman, 12 pt, double-spaced, no spacing before/after line breaks.
  • We will often begin cover design and interior layout font tests while your book is still in the editorial phase, most often around copyedit.
  • While your book may be edited by a few different editors, your production manager will be your main point of contact throughout the editorial process and is always available to answer any questions.