A rough guide for new and aspiring authors.
All writers, at some stage, edit their own work to a greater or lesser extent. Whether you self-edit or have a partner/friend to help you with the process, even if your book is contracted by a publisher there will be more edits to come. Yes, you thought that final polish you put on that MS and the fact that it got accepted meant the edits were over, didn't you? Well, if you're new to the process you might have thought so, but no. So here's a list of what you can expect to come after that contract is signed.
1.Pre-edit guidelines. You may or may not get these, and they are likely to be particular to the publisher you're with. Some of it will simply be formatting your work to their in-house style. Some will require you to remove filler words such as that, while, little, then etc. To cull adverbs and remove passive voice. To check for repetitions of words, particularly in sentences, paragraphs or scenes, but also for any 'favourite' words throughout the manuscript (you KNOW you have some, right?). That there are no impossibilities, wandering body parts or shifts in POV. Also to minimize the number of dialogue tags you use. These are all things you should be looking out for before submission, but it never hurts to go over them again, and you'll be expected to do a thorough job on this. A handy little piece of free software that can help you with some of it (although, like Spellchecker, you should NEVER, EVER rely on something like this to be the cure-all) is EditMinion. This is especially helpful for tracking down passive voice, weak words, adverbs and replacements for 'said'.
I've included a screen shot of EditMinion with a snippet from Keir to show you how it works - as you can see, I got a green light on everything. Sorry for the slight blurriness but it's a little tricky to fit it in - if you click on the image it will give you a clearer version. Also it uses UK English spellings. Even though I'm in the UK myself, my publisher is in the US so something to bear in mind when using software like this. As an addition, another author recently recommended this piece of editing softward to me - Pro Writing Aid. This gives a more in-depth analysis of your work.
2.Content edits. You should be assigned an editor, and at least have received an introduction from them. They will give your MS a thorough going over, and I do mean thorough! Any discrepancies, any errors in logic, any lacking or overdone explanations, dialogue, problems with characterizations etc will be spotted. A good editor should brainstorm any issues with you, and there will be some passing backwards and forwards of the MS until everything is put right to your and the editor's satisfaction. For some helpful tips on the process of content edits (if you're a first time author) check out my post on how to survive them on Spacefreighters Lounge here. You should also take a look at Liana Brooks's post here on what content edits actually look like when they arrive.
3.Line edits. In my case, these passed to another person separate from myself and my editor. I think that's the industry norm. Again they will make any suggestions/changes they feel are necessary and highlight any errors. These then went back to my editor who approved or rejected them, before passing them to me for my opinion and/or acceptance/refusal. These were fairly minor, but again involved some passing backwards and forwards between me and my editor.
4.Galley. This is like a draft version of the final format. Because this came in PDF format I had a form to fill in with errors rather than making tracking changes as with the content and line edits. Also as mine is only coming out as an ebook it may work out a little differently with a print copy. For me it was a case of copying the section of text containing the error, pasting it into the form, highlighting the error and then typing the correction underneath.
5.Final Format. You may have thought your part in the book was over once you finally tell your editor that the last edit is done and you're happy with the galley. But you'll still be required to check over the final version and approve it for release. In the case of an ebook, it's checking that the chapters are in the right place, and that things like italics are correct. Everything was perfect on the final - except my name came up on the downloaded file as Piia Jay instead of Pippa Jay. Fortunately it was an easy thing to fix, but you do have to go over the final draft with a sharp eye.
NB. At every stage, you should thoroughly check each version before sending it back. The closer you get to the end, the harder it is to spot errors, especially when you're so involved the story and you've spent hours staring endlessly at the text. But it's necessary. Don't rely on others to spot mistakes, although that's part of their job too. Nobody is perfect. It's incredibly hard to make changes after the galley version, and you really don't want to be telling your publisher that they suddenly need to change the whole beginning of chapter seven, or that such and such a character is now going to have blue hair instead of purple.
That's the basics, but this may vary from publisher to publisher, and depend on your editor and how experienced you are. If you feel there are things I've missed out or you'd like more details on the process, just say so in the comments. :)