In Brief: Levels of Edits

This post is probably most useful to pre-published authors.


This is where you take the seed of an idea that you love, and turn it into something workable. What to keep in mind in round one, as both the author or a reader:

  • Overall story arc
  • Pacing
  • Character arc and characterization
  • Plot points and big plot holes
  • Scenes that can be cut or added to

This round should come back to you in a letter, a phone call, or a few general notes within the MS.

CRIT GROUP – Your crit group should probably never go deeper than this level unless you have some stellar writers in your crit group. Don’t ask your readers for anything more than this until you’ve had at least one or two readers tell you this part is solid.

WITH A PUBLISHER – An edit letter from a publisher may make you want to weep, or wonder WHY the pub house picked up your book. Breathe deep.  Your editor knew what they were in for when they bought your book, and trust me, your crit partners have seen worse 😉


  • Awkward sentences
  • Redundancies
  • Plot holes and timeline issues
  • Uncharacteristic traits and/or actions

This should come in the form of track changes throughout the document. I’d never ask anyone to do more than this level without paying them – meaning, anything deeper than this, HIRE SOMEONE.


This is where your copy editor steps in and makes you feel like an idiot.

  • Grammar and Punctuation
  • Overused words and echoes
  • Paragraph Breaks
  • Style issues (every pub house has a style guide – just be consistent w/ things like s’s, or s’ and texting… Anything that’s a little different than ordinary)
  • Consistency

You should once again have comments notes everywhere. If you don’t have a few forehead slap moments, you need a new editor.


Catching all the little things that slipped through the first few rounds.

  • Formatting issues, spacing, headers, chapter numbers
  • Misspelled or misused words
  • Punctuation
  • the FINAL, final bits.

WITH A FREELANCE EDITOR: Get a sample first. Any good editor should offer a page or three as a sample edit.

WITH A PUBLISHER: this is your last chance… I usually get this round in the form of a PDF, and have to list out changes or final questions from the Copy Editor.

Never ask your friends to do this unless they’re 1. A professional, and 2. You’re paying them or have offered up something really great in trade.


One of the comments I get most often after teaching a class on critiquing is how HELPFUL it is to understand the levels of edits, which is why I placed this here. Please don’t ask for deeper edits than your MS is ready for.

And that, in brief, are the levels of edits.

~ Jo

This information was taken in part by a presentation done with the brilliant Cassie Mae of Cookie Lynn Publishing Services.

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One thought on “In Brief: Levels of Edits

  1. Pingback: Critique Like a Sandwich – Been Writing?

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