The 4 Phases of a Book Project

Cristen Iris

Too often authors approach me about developmental editing after having their manuscript copy and line edited.

More than once I've been approached by an author after their book has been laid out.

And once, an author had gone so far as uploading the document to Amazon before seeking any professional guidance.

It's disheartening to have to tell an author that after working with me and revising the manuscript, they'll have to have the manuscript re-edited, proofread, and in extreme situations even redesigned.

I hope that this post spares you unnecessary angst and saves you time and money.

Like the title says, there are four phases of a book project. Depending on what your manuscript needs, some of the phases (2 and 3 for example) may overlap. For the purpose of this post, let's keep it simple.

Phase 1: Concept Development and Testing

Phase 2: Write and Refine

Phase 3: Editing

Phase 4: Publishing


  • Developmental Editing or Manuscript Evaluation

You may skip this step if you hired a professional ghostwriter or book doctor.

  • Copy and Line Editing

This is when further refinement of paragraphs and sentences happen. Your editor will edit for grammar, punctuation, and conformity to the appropriate style, and more.

(Related: What's the Difference Between Developmental and Copy and Line Editing?)

  • Proofreading

Professional proofreaders double check for grammar and punctuation, gender neutrality, cross-referencing, typos, and much more.

Many professional editors, myself included, recommend that you hire three professional proofreaders.

  • First proofread--after the copy and line edit and before book layout (Word doc)
  • Second proofread--after the layout and before printing (pdf doc)
  • Third proofread--of a print copy (proof or ARC)


I mentioned an exception to the recommendation to hiring a developmental editor. If you plan to seek representation by a literary agent and hope a traditional publisher acquires your manuscript, you can skip several steps too.

Traditional publishers cover the cost of mechanical editing, proofreading, and publishing manuscripts they acquire, so you needn't go through every phase of the book project before submitting your manuscript to literary agents*.

But, and this is a big but ...

Do not skimp on developmental editing, and I highly recommend that unless you have an extensive background as a professional writer (that is, you are consistently paid to produce written content for public consumption) that you pay for a copy and line edit.

Don't make it hard for an agent to see your story and value as a client because there are literally hundreds of authors at any given time vying for that agent's attention, and many of them have taken great effort and financially invested in their work. Those are the types of writers who make the best clients and have the best chance of long-term success.

The publishing industry and its internal processes mystify and intimidate many, but now you're equipped to tackle the things that are within your control and have an advantage over your competition.

Related: Quick-Reference Publishing Stats

*Nonfiction including memoir is with few exceptions pitched and sold based on a book proposal rather than a full manuscript. If you plan to seek representation by a literary agent and hope to be traditionally published, consult with an editor who understands the traditional publishing model and works with literary agents and their clients.


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