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  • Writer's pictureSiân Smith

How long does it take to edit a book?

Updated: Jan 25

The world of publishing can be completely overwhelming when you first enter it: from all the unique terms (‘what is copyediting?') to the different job titles used in the editorial business, it’s no wonder most first-time authors just don’t know where to start, or how long it takes to edit and self-publish a book.

Knowing what’s involved in each stage of the editing process and how long each one takes means you can plan for them and allow enough time for each part of the editing process.

This blog post details what happens during each part of the publishing and editing process, how long each stage takes AND how much to allow between each process (this is the one that often gets overlooked!).

‘I’ve written my book, what happens next?!’

That’s a question I hear from most of my self-publishing clients. Sometimes they ask me once they’ve finished that first draft, sometimes this question comes my way while they’re in the thick of writing it.

And with book editors getting booked up for months in advance, how do you even know when to book your first service to start?

No doubt you have set yourself a deadline for the first draft of your book. So long as this deadline has a bit of wiggle room, I’d advise allowing AT LEAST one month between finishing your first draft and submitting a draft of your book to an editor for their first service.

You need time away from your first draft to allow any niggles to settle, such as any chapters or sections you feel aren’t quite right, or anything you’ve taken out of your current draft or not included that you now want to consider adding.

As hard as it is, you also need to ask someone to read your book. I recommend asking both family and friends and someone you don’t know as well (such as a friend of a friend). Getting family and friends to read the book will get you used to the idea of people you know reading the book, whereas asking people you don’t know is more likely to generate honest feedback.

A caucasian woman with brown round glasses and blonde wavy hair is holding a pen above a notebook. She is smiling at the camera. There is a pile of reference books and a plate with a cookie in front of her.
This is what your book editor could look like! Photo credit: EBM Photography

The publishing process

So, we already have at least one month on the timeline for the editing process before you send your book to an editor. Now here’s what the ideal publishing process looks like to take you from draft to published book, with the average time needed for each stage, based on 70,000 words.

Final draft + one month + 1–3 months developmental edit + one month + 6 weeks copyedit + one month + 2 weeks typeset + 3 weeks proofread = publish!

If you don’t use all these services, you can adjust your timeline from draft to book accordingly (but think about whether you need to add time for these processes, if you’re doing them yourself). Timings are also based on my timescale but would always depend on scheduling.

What follows is an overview of each of those services, so you can start to familarise yourself with the different levels of editing, such as the difference between proofreading and editing.

1.       Developmental edit – also referred to as a ‘structural edit’ or ‘content edit’. This looks at the big picture elements of your book, such as the authorial voice, structure, central argument, storytelling devices. A true developmental edit will take several weeks, as you send draft chapters or a section, get feedback, and submit again for further feedback until you’re both happy with the final result. In self-publishing, this can also take the format of working with a writing coach or as part of a writing workshop.

Time needed for developmental edit: one to three months.

-          If your budget doesn’t allow for a comprehensive developmental edit, you can opt for a manuscript appraisal (sometimes called a manuscript review, critique or evaluation). This is a ‘one-round’ version of a developmental edit: you’ll receive feedback on what’s great and what needs more work, but you won’t submit these changes to your editor to review again (unless you pay for another appraisal).

Time needed for manuscript appraisal (including report and handover call): 2 weeks.

(30,000 words 1 week, 50,000 words 1.5 weeks, 70,000 words)

Time needed AFTER final developmental edit round or manuscript appraisal BEFORE the next editing stage (copyediting): at least another month to go through your manuscript thoroughly, implementing any changes suggested that you agree with.

2.       Copyediting – this is what most people think of when they think of ‘editing’: a line-by-edit that focuses on linguistic mechanics such as spelling, grammar, inconsistency, repetition, word choice and overall readability. This stage of editing happens while the manuscript is still in Word format and uses Track Changes so you can see what’s been changed.

Time needed for copyediting: 5 to 6 weeks.

(30,000 words 2 weeks, 50,000 words 3 to 4 weeks, 70,000 words )

Time needed AFTER copyediting BEFORE next editing stage: at least ONE month to go through your manuscript thoroughly, implementing any changes suggested that you agree with and/or raise queries.

3.       Typesetting – this is when you see your manuscript become a book. Most editors are NOT typesetters, because typesetting is a highly technical role requiring specific design programs. It’s not just a case of converting your Word doc to a PDF doc. This is the stage when you’ll choose font types for the main content, chapter titles, and sub headers you have, and other elements such as journal entries, emails or text messages.

Time needed for typesetting: 2 weeks.

(30,000 words 1 week, 50,000 words 1 to 2 weeks, 70,000 words)

4.       Proofreading – many people will assume many of the above stages come under ‘proofreading’, but this is actually the final check any editorial professional will undertake before your book is uploaded and published. Proofreading happens after your book has been formatted (most proofreaders check a PDF version).

-          Please note: this service is all about finding and amending errors, rather than making improvements to word choice.

Time needed for proofreading: 3 weeks.

30,000 words 1.5 weeks, 50,000 words 2 weeks, 70,000 words

Finally, you’re ready to receive or print your first ever proof copy! You want to allow time to go through your proof copy to spot any mistakes that have slipped through the net and also send to anyone you’re hoping to receive an endorsement or pre-launch review from.

So make sure you add some extra time for reading and sending out your proof copy before your actual launch date!

A general timescale for editing a book

If your manuscript went through every stage from developmental edit to final proofread it would take around 5 months to edit a 70,000-word book.

4 weeks ‘thinking time’ after first draft + 6 weeks for developmental edit + 4 weeks to go through changes + 5 weeks for copyedit + 4 weeks to go through changes + 2 weeks for typesetting + 3 weeks for proofreading

I know this might seem overwhelming or surprising to hear, but it’s so important not to rush the editing stage of your book or get frustrated because things take far longer than you’d anticipated. This part of the whole process is when your book truly comes to life. You’ve put the hard work in when writing it, now it’s time to elevate it to publishing standard. This is what we’ll achieve together, by going through the structure and making changes to elements such as word choice. The final result will be a book your reader loves and recommends to others!

Caucasian hands grasp a black mug. In soft focus there are two reference books.
Editing takes time, but it's worth it. Photo credit: EBM Photography

As stated at the start, these timescales are based on the way I run my business, but the time you have between each service will depend on your own circumstances. If you’re publishing this book alongside a busy job or between family demands (possibly both!) then you need to map out when and how you can give your book the attention it deserves. This may mean you require 6 weeks between each editing service. Or you may decide to use annual leave and focus on nothing but your book for 2 weeks after the first round of editing.

Like any creative process, writing is completely unpredictable, which is summarised wonderfully by Caitlin Moran in her latest book What About Men?

‘Every time you write a book, it’s different. Sometimes it’s fast, sometimes, it’s slow […] This book went through two drafts – the first long, slow and thoughtful, and then the second one was an 80% rewrite in two weeks flat’.

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