Editorial terminology

Use the right words to prevent client confusion

The other day I saw a writer upset that their editor promised several passes through their manuscript but in fact only did one. It was a classic case of miscommunication of editorial terminology.

What the writer expected was for the editor to provide feedback through several revisions. What the writer got was just one edit, one time. 

It turned out that the writer didn’t understand what an editorial pass is. It is not the same thing as “an edit” or an editorial round. 

If you’re working with indie authors you cannot expect them to immediately know and understand editorial terminology, especially when editors sometimes use the terms loosely themselves and when different words are used to mean the same thing (is it developmental editing, story editing, content editing, substantive editing? It can be called all of those things).

But editorial passes and editorial rounds are two different things. When you use these terms, though, you need to be crystal clear what you mean by them.

Editorial round vs editorial pass

An “editorial round” is one complete edit. In development, this consists of editorial queries on the ms itself and a revision letter (sometimes called an editorial letter). 

A ms may require more than one round of development. This would be what the writer above was envisioning, where the dev editor would review the writer’s revision and make additional edits. Typically this is necessary when the ms is in poor shape and needs a lot of work.

In traditional publishing, manuscripts typically go through several rounds of editing of different types, including a development round, a copyediting round, and a proofing round.

An “editorial pass” is the editor going through the ms one time, addressing errors. Most editors take several passes through a ms to complete one editorial round. That’s likely what this editor told the writer: “I’ll take several passes through your ms.”

The writer understood this to mean “rounds” when the editor merely meant they were going to be thorough in the edit.

A “revision round” is the author revising the ms completely in response to an editorial round. Like an editor, authors may take several passes through the ms in order to complete the round. When the author feels they’ve addressed the concerns to the best of their ability, the revision round is complete.

Define editorial terminology when working with authors

Make sure you clearly define the deliverables of your edit, use terminology carefully (and explain what it means!), and you’re less likely to encounter a problem like this one.

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