Book Editing Insights From A Professional

book editing

Book editing can be daunting and confusing, especially for first-time authors. BookBaby’s Sam Sedam talks with Christina M. Frey to gain editing insights in this enlightening podcast.

The BookBaby Spotlight podcast is your home for conversations with authors, illustrators, editors, and other industry insiders from the world of self-publishing, hosted by BookBaby distribution manager, Sam Sedam.

Sam recently spoke with Christina M. Frey, co-executive of the EFA (Editorial Freelancers Association) and a freelance editor. The following is an excerpt from the podcast interview.

Sam Sedam: You’re co-executive of the EFA. Tell me about the organization.

Christina M. Frey: The Editorial Freelancers Association is a professional association for editors, writers, indexers, formatters — essentially anybody who is a professional in the editorial field. We’ve been going for 50 years, this year is our 50th anniversary, and we basically provide professional support, whether that’s helping members find jobs, providing education classes, or affording networking opportunities. We have chapters across the US — they’re meeting virtually right now, but we were meeting in-person prior — and we have a conference every few years. We’re here to help support professional growth in the editorial field.

Sam Sedam: How many members are there?

Christina M. Frey: It fluctuates, but I’d say there are about 2,800 members. Our members are almost exclusively freelancers.

Sam Sedam: You’re an editor yourself, and a literary coach. What does a literary coach do?

Christina M. Frey: It’s like a writing coach, but not focusing on a book, necessarily. I can help if somebody has a book they are writing, but I can help with writing technique, learning how to write a scene, writing a short story, or, from an editing perspective, learn how to edit memoir; so it’s about a range of literary things, not just about writing.

Sam Sedam: Do you stick to a specific genre?

Christina M. Frey: It depends. There are certain genres I’m not really familiar with, so I don’t work in them. But I have a pretty wide range of genres.

Sam Sedam: Do you work with agents and publishers, or just directly with the authors? Are they the ones who hire you?

Christina M. Frey: Usually it’s the author that hires me. I have worked with some small presses before, often it’s a book they’ve already accepted for publication that needs a little extra support. I’m still working one-on-one with the author. That’s the relationship I prefer.

Sam Sedam: What do you mean by “extra support?” What’s an example of that?

Christina M. Frey: Well, if a manuscript has been accepted for publication but it’s 40,000 words too long, I’ll work with the author to help rein it in and shape it a little bit.

Sam Sedam: One of the things our authors have questions about is whether or not to credit the editor as part of the metadata for the book. Is that something you think about?

Christina M. Frey: I would never expect to be credited in the metadata. Sometimes people choose to mention me in the Acknowledgments, it’s really up to the author, I’m not going to be upset or offended either way.

Sam Sedam: Taking a broad view, what does a book editor actually do?

Christina M. Frey: It really depends on the type of editing. If we’re taking about developmental editing, that’s kind of your “big picture, is this working as a story?” edit. Do the characters have a definable arc? Are there any plot holes? Is it holding together? Is the pacing good? Does it slump in the middle? Is the ending satisfactory? Those are the kinds of questions I’d be answering.

Usually the manuscript is completed — though, not always — so I will parse it out and try to understand character arcs, understand the plot, determine if the narrative is out of order or some elements don’t seem to gel. I might actually lay out the pieces on the floor and move them around, physically. Sometimes that’s a really good way to break the block. If I’m coming in as a developmental editor, I really immerse myself in the story from a bird’s eye view and figure out if something is working or isn’t working, how to improve it, and how to get the reader to connect with the story.

Sam Sedam: Do you usually read through the manuscript first and then start working on it?

Christina M. Frey: Yes, every single time. I don’t touch it until I’ve finished the first read-through. For a developmental edit, I’ll usually read through the book several times, several different ways as I’m mapping it. For line editing, I still read through it, even though I’m going to work on more of a “sentence level.” But I read through it to get a sense of the author’s voice, reading without any expectations, without thinking, “I need to fix this.” I get to know the book and I really enjoy it.

Sam Sedam: Is that how you’ve gotten into editing? Are you a big literature fan?

Christina M. Frey: I am, though I have always gravitated toward editing. School newspapers, law magazines, and so on.

Sam Sedam: You’ve mentioned developmental editing, what about other types?

Christina M. Frey: Here’s the thing with editing: Every editor you talk to will have a slightly different definition of the different types of editing. So when I describe them, take it with a grain of salt. Sometimes developmental editing is deeper than the author is looking for, so I’ll go into content editing, which involves work on more of a scene level, on the aspects of a scene.

The next level is line editing. Line editing is actually my favorite type. Basically, if you think of the narrative as a composition, a musical composition, line editing looks at the music — the rhythm and flow, the cadence from line to line. It still looks out for purple prose or stilted dialogue, but it’s all geared toward, “How is this flowing? Is the reader going to be pulled along by the writing as well as by the story itself?”

Sam Sedam: And from there, is proofreading the next level?

Christina M. Frey: Copy editing would usually happen next. Copy editing is really about making everything consistent — the spelling, grammar, and punctuation consistent with a particular style. Many people use the Chicago Manual of Style, other authors have their own individual style guide that they like to use supplementally, but it’s about making sure everything is done consistently. After that is proofreading, especially if it’s being printed. Proofreading will look to see if you have “the” repeated three times in a row on one side of the paragraph. It will also look to see if a word is hyphenated strangely, if it breaks weirdly over a line.

Sam Sedam: So how many rounds of editing should a manuscript go through from the time an author puts down the pen to the time it’s published?

Christina M. Frey: If an author has completed a first draft, they should put it away for a couple of weeks and then open it again and do some self-editing. And then do another round of self-editing. There should be a lot of self-editing that happens. And it’s really in the author’s self-interest, because the stronger the manuscript is when they give it to an editor, the more the editor can do for them.

Sam Sedam: What do you mean by that?

Christina M. Frey: If the book has serious plot flaws or character flaws and huge chunks of it need to be rewritten, it might need another developmental edit after all the writing and editing is done.

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There is a LOT more to the conversation. Listen to the entire podcast. Check out more episodes through, Spotify, Apple, and most other podcast platforms.


  1. Very good. Everytime I read my story I find things I want to change. Words. Phrases. Punctuation. I even found errors made by my editor.


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