Posted On February 18, 2011 by Print This Post

Behind the Scenes: Editing

Welcome to the second installment of our Behind the Scenes series. Today, Carina Press editor (eh-hem, my editor.) Gina Bernal gives us the deets on the editorial process.

Take it away, Gina!

You got The Call. Now what? For a new author, starting the editing process can be just as nerve-racking as sending out that first query. You’re placing the book you’ve lovingly crafted for months, maybe years into the hands of a stranger you may have only “met” via email or over the phone. So would you believe me if I told you it can be rewarding, even fun?

Every publishing house has its own editorial process, but the major stages are relatively universal. The first round is what are usually called developmental or content edits. Personally, this is my favorite part of the process because I get to reread a manuscript for the first time since its acquisition and rediscover all the things that made me fall in love with it. During the developmental edit you can expect to receive a letter from your editor outlining the things you’ve done right, as well as places in the manuscript that could benefit from revisions. This is the time to tackle plot holes, pacing problems, character inconsistencies, conflict, world building—in other words, the big picture items. Developmental edits provide you, the author, a great opportunity to view your story and characters through a fresh pair of eyes. For example, a comment about how your heroine never really seems to have her guard up despite all her talk about fearing betrayal might lead you to write a new scene that’s an emotional watershed for her character.

Once you’ve turned in revisions and your editor feels confident all concerns were appropriately addressed, you’re ready for round two: line edits. At this stage, an editor will do a nitty-gritty, line-by-line examination of the manuscript. Line edits focus on basics like grammar, spelling errors, repetition and typos, as well as stylistic elements in the narrative. Do you fall back too often on the passive voice when a stronger construction would provide a better visual? Is tiny your favorite adjective? Does a certain sentence read awkwardly? Would cutting the last two lines of a chapter help it end with more impact? Do your characters have problems keeping their eyes from flying across the room or roaming each others’ bodies? Seeing their common mistakes helps authors learn from the process and become better writers.

Some editors combine both stages, line editing as they read for developmental issues—everyone has his or her own preference. I generally like to line edit as I go along and then do another thorough read-through once revisions are complete because I am just that meticulous (or a little OCD).

This entire process can unfold within several months or just a few weeks. In traditional print publishing, it might take up to a year for your book to go from contract to shelf. At a digital-first house like Carina Press, turnaround is faster, which means shorter production schedules and tighter editorial deadlines.

Regardless of the length of the process, the most important aspect is the author-editor relationship. The kind of relationship you establish with your editor depends on your own individual needs as an author. Some like to brainstorm with their editors and ask for opinions as they work out a new book or revision. Others like to hash out the creative process with a writing partner or critique group before presenting their editors with the finished product. Different people work different ways, and that’s okay.

Remember, the two of you don’t have to be BFFs. But the author-editor relationship should never be an antagonistic one either. At the end of the day, your editor is an ally, someone who loves your book as much as you do and really does want to help you best realize your vision. Jumping into the editorial process might be scary at first, but it’s a key step in mining your writing’s potential.


RU Crew, here’s your chance to ask those burning editing questions. And just for fun, to prove Gina’s point about overuse of favorite words, take a guess how many times I used the word “look” in Man Law. The person who comes closest wins an RU pocket jotter.

Special thanks to Gina for being here today. I hope you all get lucky enough to have an editor like her because she is a gem! Join us on Monday when Tammie King of Night Owl Romance gives us the who, when, what and where of book reviews.

Gina’s Bio: Gina Bernal is a freelance acquisitions editor for Carina Press. She comes to Carina with over seven years of publishing experience, having started her career at the Berkley Publishing Group and most recently serving as the editor of the Doubleday and Rhapsody Book Clubs. She holds a B.A. in History and Literature from Harvard University and currently resides in the Boston area.

She is actively seeking romance of all subgenres and heat levels, women’s fiction, historical fiction and suspense/mystery novels with strong female leads. Gina loves books that make her laugh, books that make her cry and books that do both. She’s a sucker for tortured heroes, unusual settings and classic themes with new twists.

You can follow her on Twitter @GinaBernal

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17 Responses to “Behind the Scenes: Editing”

  1. Hi Gina,

    Welcome to RU! Thanks for providing such a fabulous post. I’ve heard wonderful things about Carina.

    What elements do you (personally) think are essential in an author-editor relationship?

    I’m greedy, so I have one more question. How do you handle it when you convey a content problem, but the author isn’t getting it? She’s tried to fix the problem, but just hasn’t hit the sweet spot yet?


    Posted by TraceyDevlyn | February 18, 2011, 5:22 am
    • Receptiveness to new ideas and the ability to compromise are important factors in the author-editor relationship—on both sides. As an author, you don’t want to give up the integrity of your vision, but you learn to pick your battles. At the same time, an editor is not an autocrat and should be open to the author’s opinions.

      When an author is close but not quite there in fixing a content issue, I try to break it down to specifics and ask a lot of why and what if questions. Why did this character react in such a way? What if instead of A, B happened—how would that change the dynamics of the scene? Sometimes taking a step back and looking at individual elements gives you a better sense of the whole.

      Posted by Gina Bernal | February 18, 2011, 9:26 am
  2. Hi Gina! Welcome to RU. So excited to have you here with us. Having just been through my first round of content edits, I loved not only revisiting the characters, but exploring some changes I would never have thought to make. I guess that’s the beauty of having a great editor! Yes, I know I’ve used two exclamation points so far. You can take them out later. 🙂

    And here’s the million dollar question: What is it that draws you to a story? No story is perfect (eh-hem, as I have recently seen), but how do you know when you’ve got one that you want to work with?

    Thanks again for being here.

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | February 18, 2011, 7:26 am
    • Thanks for inviting me, Adrienne, and for talking me up. 🙂

      Voice, conflict and storytelling ability are some of the things that most draw me to a story. I can’t say I’ve ever seen a submission come in where I’ve said “No need to even touch this, it’s perfect!” So if your voice is appealing enough to keep me engaged despite some flaws, score for you. Conflict is what keeps tensions high and readers turning pages, and it goes hand-in-hand with storytelling. Your writing might be beautiful, but if I feel like nothing’s really happening—or worse, if I stop caring what will happen next—what’s to keep me reading?

      Posted by Gina Bernal | February 18, 2011, 9:46 am
  3. Morning Gina!

    Here’s my question – how do you become an editor? It seems like a simple question, but how is it that an editor can spot that Adrienne used the word look 63 times (just guessing!) and a writer can’t? I understand we’re too close to our work, and some of us have no idea where the little comma’s go for sure, but what makes an editor able to take a book from good to great?

    Thanks for posting with us today!



    Posted by Carrie Spencer | February 18, 2011, 8:09 am
    • Hi Carrie,

      I became an editor the old-fashioned way. I did a college internship at a publisher, got lucky enough that the editors I interned for needed a new assistant when I graduated, moved to New York and went forward in my career from there. Publishing is very much a mentoring sort of industry; you learn from experience and from those who’ve been doing it longer than you have. Digital publishing has opened a lot of doors for people with non-traditional backgrounds as well. For example my fellow Carina freelancers have an impressive array of experience in the corporate world, communications, teaching, writing, technical editing, etc.

      You’re right in saying that it’s easier for editors catch things because they’re a step more removed from a story than its author is. Also, in the course of acquiring the book and going through the stages of editing, we’ll have read the same book multiple times and can concentrate on the details.

      Posted by Gina Bernal | February 18, 2011, 10:08 am
  4. Hi Gina,

    Thanks for your insight from the other side. My question is how many authors are assigned to each editor? How do you keep all the books in the air?

    Mary Jo Burke

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | February 18, 2011, 8:42 am
    • Hi Mary Jo,

      At Carina, no editor is assigned an author. We only take on projects that we’ve read ourselves as submissions and wanted to acquire. The number of authors you have depends on how many acquisitions you make. Personally, I like to stagger my editing schedule so I’m working on edits for one book, while another is with the author for revisions and yet another is off with the copyeditors, etc. Time management is, not surprisingly, an important editorial skill!

      Posted by Gina Bernal | February 18, 2011, 10:25 am
  5. Welcome, Gina.

    We’re delighted to have you at RU today.

    I’m wondering how you, as an editor, can “get past” all those line edit issues when you read the story the first time. Do they register with you at all at that point or are you too caught up in the story to notice until later?

    And what catches your eye about a story when you know there will be some serious work ahead with this author? Do editors acquire on voice and/or plot and assume they can fix those issues?

    Many thanks, Gina!

    Posted by Kelsey Browning | February 18, 2011, 8:56 am
    • Hi Kelsey,
      Little line edit type flaws do register with me as I read a submission, but I also know to expect that 99.9% of manuscripts are going to need some kind of polishing. It’s the bigger issues that throw up red flags.

      If a book has a great voice or premise but needs serious work, I may write a revise and resubmit letter to the author. This is especially true of authors who I’ve never worked with before, because I have no assurances of whether or not they will be able to fix the issues successfully through edits. I advise authors not to be disheartened if they receive a letter like this—an editor doesn’t have to take time out of her schedule to give you feedback, so when she does it’s because she sees potential there. I’ve had some successes with R&Rs that have come back and been acquired.

      Posted by Gina Bernal | February 18, 2011, 10:40 am
  6. Hi Gina! I read and re-read your first line a few times, pretending it was true. Well, they do say we have to visualize a goal for it to come true, right? I’m visualizing, big time!

    Recently some close friends of mine have sold their first books, so I’ve been learning about the “after the call” craziness first hand. Craziness for the author, that is, since it seems to involve a heady mix of marketing/self-promotion, revisions on the book that sold and digging in to the next book.

    It’s interesting to read about this from an editor’s perspective – thanks so much for making this all sound a little less intimidating!

    Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | February 18, 2011, 2:39 pm
  7. What is the biggest *turn off* for an editor, esp. from a sub by a never-pubbed author?

    Posted by CBlaire | February 18, 2011, 2:56 pm
  8. Hello Gina!

    Enlightening post!

    Have you ever encountered an author who’s unwilling to consider your suggestions and make changes? How do you handle that?

    Thanks so much for being with us at RU today!


    Posted by jennifer tanner | February 18, 2011, 5:26 pm
    • Hi Jennifer,

      I’ve been lucky that I’ve never had an author under contract unwilling to make revisions. I think it helps to back up suggestions with solid reasoning and examples. Sometimes an author might not go with my exact suggestion but use the point to solve the problem in a different way.

      Posted by Gina Bernal | February 18, 2011, 6:15 pm
  9. Thanks, Gina, for an illuminating post, and thanks, RU, for hosting!


    Posted by Janice Curran | February 20, 2011, 7:05 am


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Becke Davis, Adrienne Giordano, Becke Davis, carrie c spencer, carrie c spencer and others. carrie c spencer said: RT @romanceuniv Behind the Scenes: Editing […]

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