The Importance of the Triple Edit

by John Peragine

Completing a draft of a book can feel like you scaled a mountain. You might take a moment to breathe and celebrate. You did it! You are on top, after a difficult climb. And then you notice, as the clouds clear a bit, that you have only scaled the first peak. There are three more even steeper peaks ahead before you can call it DONE! Those triple steep hikes are called editing.

I recommend three different edits completed by three different people. Try to use both men and women and people from different races and backgrounds than your own. They will provide a more diverse edit and provide you a broader perspective on your work.

If you are having the book edited by a traditional press, the process is similar to the experience of self-publishing in which YOU are the publisher.

I don’t recommend skipping any of these edits, because there is nothing worse than a manuscript full of typos, errors, and even plot holes.

Step 1: Developmental Edit

Hold on to your britches because the developmental editor is most likely the first person who will be reading your epic work. This edit usually takes the longest because they are looking at your manuscript through the lens of its overall story structure — plot, characters, scenes, dialog, and more.

Before you open your editorial review document, have a glass of your favorite beverage and remember: this process is meant to help you polish your work. It isn’t personal.

It may feel personal, but it isn’t. The editor doesn’t hate your book. They love your work and want to help you bring the best version of it into the world. Editors have your best interest, so try not to cry and don’t give up.

Remember this mantra: ALL FIRST DRAFTS ARE CRAP! (Whenever you doubt that, watch this video from bestselling author Maureen Johnson.)

Pour yourself a second glass of whatever your drinking and dig in. You have work to do.

Step 2: Copy Edit

Most of the time, you will move to the copy edit after the developmental edit. If your book needed a lot of work you might want to consider a second developmental edit, but try to find a different editor with fresh eyes to do it.

The copy edit is a step closer to perfection. Your grammarian will pull apart your syntax errors and dangling participles. They will point out beautiful things such as, “Don’t use the word large again. You have used it 80 times in this chapter. Treat yourself – buy a thesaurus.” (Taken almost verbatim to a comment I received.)

Once they are finished, your manuscript will be ready to
sing. You can send out your Advance Reader copies and begin gathering the tons
of compliments and reviews of your Pulitzer worthy masterpiece.

But wait…there is one more peak to conquer…

Step 3: Proofread

Many first time authors skip right to this step and believe this is all they need for their edit. If you skip the other two edits, a proofread can be compared to putting lipstick on a pig.


I could offer crasser euphemisms to describe what happens when you only have a proofread edit of your work, but I will confidently leave it to your imagination.

A proofread is the time to “cross eyes and dot teas.” A good proofreader scans every word, every bit of punctuation, every missing pronoun, and creates a manuscript worthy of being printed on cream-colored paper. (I’m not too fond of white paper; it hurts my eyes. Be kind to your readers: use cream-colored paper.)

The Investment

If you are self-publishing your book, the process I mention here is an investment. Whenever someone asks me how much it will cost, I do my best impression of Dr. Evil and say, “One million dollars.”

The reality is, there is no standard price. It can vary, and more expensive editors are not always the best. More important than price is the output of the editor. The Writer’s Market has a great section that offers market prices for editors and the like.

How do you know they’re the best person for the job? Here are some things to consider:

  1. Where did you find the editor? There are many great organizations, such as the Editorial Freelancers Association. They vet their editors. There are a ton of sites that have lists of freelance editors, but how do you know if they are any good? I hire most of my editors through referrals from people I trust. Ask other authors who they use and their experience with their editor.
  2. Not all editors are the same. I have not found any one editor that does all three kinds of edits well. They usually have one or two types of edits they do better than others. The reason for this is each edit is different and requires different skills. For instance, I tend to use College English professors for proofreaders. They are more versed in grammar rules and writing styles.
  3. How much experience do they have in your genre? If you are writing a YA book, your first choice for a developmental edit may not be a historical fiction writer. You want someone who knows your genre and how the book should read in that genre.
  4. Negotiate price. Most freelancers are flexible. You may even ask them to edit a couple of pages for you before you hire them. (You will, of course, pay them for this.) Tell them what your budget is, and they will often work something out with you.
  5. Editors work hard and often make your book fantastic, where it may have started out mediocre. I recommend you do these three things for your editors:
  • Tip them. A tip can be money or perhaps a nice bottle of whiskey.
  • Acknowledge them in your book. Your grandma should be thanked for all the recipes you stole from her to write your cookbook, but be sure to thank the editors who made the words sing on the page.
  • Refer them to others. If you like their work, send them to other authors. More work is the greatest ‘thank you’ you can give them.

What are your common writing mistakes? (Come on- we won’t judge.) Who do you recommend as an editor, and why? Share the love down in the comments!

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About John

John Peragine has published 14 books and ghostwritten more than 100 others. He is a contributor for HuffPost, Reuters, and The Today Show. He covered the John Edwards trial exclusively for Bloomberg News and The New York Times. He has written for Wine EnthusiastGrapevine Magazine,, WineMaker magazine, and Writer’s Digest.

John began writing professionally in 2007, after working 13 years in social work and as the piccolo player for the Western Piedmont Symphony for over 25 years. Peragine is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. His newest book, Max and the Spice Thieves, will be released this Fall.

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