Prepublishing, Tips & Tricks, Traditional

A Writer’s Orders of Operations

I never realized how big of a problem it was for writers to grasp or understand the correct way to go about what happens after they write the first draft. It’s a question that’s asked repeatedly.

So today, with some help from a few editors I know—using their reasoning on some parts—this post is the 1, 2, 3 of a writer’s order of operations, from draft to published gem.

Developmental Editors aka DE

DEs are editors who specialize in storytelling. They aren’t picking your grammar and punctuation off the ground.

DEs come in at two different times either during the plot/outlining stage or the early draft stages. The three DEs I know prefer to help you take a general outline and correct it before you spend months writing it.

A DE’s purpose is to improve the structure of the story by tackling pacing, plot, characters, and more before helping you reform it into a strong, cohesive story. This can lead to major changes such as the merging of characters to create a better character, erasing entire plotlines or creating better subplots. They take your book and help narrow the focus to attract the proper audience and fit within the genre you’re aiming for by strengthening the good and rubbing out the weak parts of the story.

If you don’t know the general idea of where your story is going, then they can’t help you either. So, either plot your story as well as you can or have an early draft that they can follow along.

If you’re looking for one, I recommend JC Admore at or Lauren Nalls Their way of doing things are drastically different, but their ability to bring a story’s heart to the forefront is amazing.

**Not all writers use DEs.**

Self Edit/Revise

Now that the DE tore it apart, you will have to put it back together.

Here’s a helpful post on editing vs revising and some key things to look for—

Alpha Readers

Some writers prefer to use Alpha readers over DEs or in conjunction with them. Alphas can’t replace a DE. The skills aren’t the same. Alphas work with a piece before you’ve shined it completely. You still need to know WTF your story is doing, but an Alpha points out issues such as probabilities, faulty heuristics (thought processes/assumptions), and usually, have a specialty in relation to a key point in your book. If they must wade through a crappy draft, they won’t be able to focus on what they need to. Please send them as clean of a copy as you can to work from.

They do not fix your grammar and punctuation.

**Not all writers use Alpha Readers.**

Self-Edit/Revise to a Polished Draft

Take DEs and Alphas’ notes and improve your story. This isn’t just fixing plot holes anymore but letting what you want to happen shine as you polish it.

If you haven’t read your story until it is clean and consistent, then you’re not ready for the next points. You can’t send things to betas or editors if you’ve not read your story, adjusting it front to back, and readied it for another person to read.

Beta Readers

Betas are closer to your reader-base than an Alpha will be. You’re taking your book for a test drive with them.

This happens before your line/copy editing. Why? Because if they find things that cause massive rewrites, then you will have to pay for more edits if you did a copy/line edit first, delaying your timeline, and causing you to have anxiety as nothing is going the way you wanted.

How to find betas: and how to use FB groups with betas:,

They do not fix grammar/punctuation.

**While waiting for your betas to get back to you and even before you recruit your betas, use this time to research marketing for your genre. This could be query letters and publishers/agents for traditional or learning about website designs and social media.

Self-Edit/Revise Again

You’re going to see this a lot. Take the beta’s advice, apply it, and make sure there were no chain reactions/domino effects that happened because of changing one thing—IE it made more sense for a German Shepherd to be guarding the impound lot, but for comic relief you changed it to a Chihuahua, but you forgot to change that 1 line in chapter 2 that still has it as a Shepherd. Another example, your character had long hair here but short hair there, and there was no mention of a haircut in between.

If you’re going traditional, the next step for you is querying agents/publishers. Please have your synopsis critiqued and edited.

For indies, or for those wanting to present an edited book to publishers, continue to the next step.


This is the part most people know. There are two types of editors for this spot—Copy and Line. Both use Track Changes and Comments in Microsoft Word/Google Docs to make changes/suggestions. Here’s a post on how to find an editor:

A substantive editor—also known as a line editor—looks at the creative aspect, the word flow, and writing style. They help with run-on sentences, tightening prose into a cohesive thing that isn’t beating the reader over the head with the proverbial dead horse, where your thought didn’t translate well onto the paper, changes to help pacing, and more along those lines.

A copy editor makes sure you’re using the right/consistent word, IE their/there or grey/gray, and you’re not missing basic punctuation. They look at it line by line and not as a cohesive unit.

I know the two styles seem opposite of what they say in their title. If you want confirmation, check out these lovely posts that detail it more.

**In my opinion, hire a copy editor. The ones I use do line and copy at the same time and are invaluable as a resource, and price wise they are in the middle of having to hire two different editors.

**No matter how many courses or other writers tell you “self-edit it and forget hiring someone,” that is the worst advice to give. As writers we know how we want the words to come across, but while we write the stories we want to read, the works need to be readable outside of your head. In other words, we’re too close to the subject and simple things that should be caught can be missed. A poorly edited book can haunt your career so start it off right with a proper edit. You can change the cover, you can change the trim size, but the one thing you can’t change is impressions. Nothing is gone forever once put up online, so do yourself a favor and put your best foot forward.

Self-Edit Again

Now that you’ve tackled all the track changes, read through it a few more times. Even editors miss a few things when they are busy fixing so many other things.


A proofreader comes before a formatter/typesetting. They catch anything that you or the editor miss. They are only looking for things that stand out as being wrong.

Make a Decision

By this point, you need to decide if you are going traditional or indie. If you’re going traditional, then you’ll need your document formatted for submissions to publishers and agents. If you’re going indie, then you’ll need your files formatted for publishing.


This comes when you are 100% certain this book is done. There are no changes left to be made. They take your work and make it reader-ready for submissions or for eBooks and print books.

Now, they come last because typesetting is a lot like the game Jenga. You might have the same word count as you did prior to the proofer or the editor, but just like the game, small changes can have a rippling effect on the layout of your book.

Taking a word from this chapter shortens it and adding a word or two in a later chapter lengthens it, breaking apart a paragraph adds length and condensing a few shortens it despite the word count not changing.

If you have it formatted and then have it proofed, every little change will have to be adjusted in what should be the final files—that’s breaking open the files, finding the issues, fixing it, regenerating it. That could be one or two or that could be a half dozen to massive overhauls because you didn’t follow the logical steps of progression from draft to finished product. I’m not talking about layout, that’s a formatter’s job. I’m talking about actual story changes. If you make the formatter change all those things, you will end up either paying out the ass for changes on the hourly level (on average of $20 an hour with an hour minimum) or paying for another formatting completely (which might be cheaper sometimes).

Cover Designer

If you’re going indie, your next step is cover designers. You can contact a cover designer as early as you want or as late in the process as you want, but my preference is to contact a designer when a book is sent to the editors. This gives the designer time to work you in or give you time to discuss things and understand the process if you’ve never worked with them before.

Now the reason I put the designer last is that to create the paperback wraps (covers), they need a page count which the formatter will supply you once they finish the job.

The designers I work with just hold on to the paperback files until you supply the page count which could be when you submit the order or months down the road. I don’t like having unfinished projects in my Open Works formatting job file, and so, I don’t like tying up designers in the same manner.

**Unless you are a professional in this area with great knowledge and understanding of programs like Photoshop and GIMP, please hire someone. Covers are as much about marketing as they are in making sure they fit the specs of companies you use to upload and distribute your book through.


These are advance reader copy readers. ARCs have been a popular “early access” since books became entertainment. Traditional publishers send them out to get reviews ready in well-sought newspapers, self-publishers do it to have reviews ready to go once the book goes live, and both parties do it for exposure and editorial reviews that they can use in advertising.

Ready to Go

Now that you’ve had it professionally edited, your proofers have done their job, and you have a finished product ready for the consumer, upload it to the retailers you need, and let the promotion begin.

Check out this post to locate distribution channels for your works.

Don’t forget to like, comment, and subscribe for more WwD content.

This post was edited/proofed by Dennis Doty and ProWritingAid.


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