13 September 2022

Editing Evolution

My process for editing has changed over the years, and especially more so lately as the number of editing projects has increased. My first editing projects happened back when manuscripts arrived in the day’s mail, and all editing was done on hardcopy. Some of those manuscripts bled red (or blue, or whatever color pen I was using that day) by the time I finished.

At the back: A novella in progress.
The other three piles:
Anthologies in progress.
Email eliminated the need for authors to send hardcopy, but not the way I worked. I printed, read, and edited on paper before entering my edits and comments into the appropriate Word documents. Over time, I realized my process was responsible for the decimation of much of the world’s forests.

My current process, which may evolve yet again in the future:

1. Before I read a submission, I reformat it to double-spaced 12 pt. Times New Roman; flush left, ragged right; .5” paragraph indents, and no odd spacing between paragraphs. Then I do a quick search-and-replace to fix common problems such as improper dashes and improper quotation marks. I do this because I’ve discovered that the visual appearance of a manuscript (font, font size, etc.) impacts my opinion of it. By making every submission look the same before I read, I find it easier to judge the work based solely on the writing.

2. I read the manuscript on my computer, and I have track changes turned on. As I read, I correct obvious errors (their for there, for example), delete extraneous words, and make notes about things that confuse me. If I find myself making multiple corrections and changes, or find myself  inserting multiple notes, I’ll stop reading and reject the submission.

3. Then I run the file through spellcheck, which almost always identifies something of concern. Sometimes spellcheck finds an error I missed and sometimes it identifies non-errors, such as slang words and dropped gs (goin’ for going).

4. At this point, anticipating an acceptance, I print a hard copy and read the story one more time. Occasionally, I find something serious I glossed over when reading on the computer screen, and I reject the story. The likelihood, though, is that if I’ve reached the point of printing a hardcopy, I’m going to accept the story.

5. If I have identified any additional corrections or have any additional questions, I input them into the Word document.

6. I then send the edited Word document, which might be clean as a whistle (I love those writers!) or may look like the electronic version of a paper manuscript bleeding editorial red ink, to the writer.

7. Upon receiving the edited manuscript, the writer curses me, my ancestors, and my progeny (I may be projecting because that’s what I do when I get an edited manuscript back from an editor).

8. At some point, the manuscript returns. Sometimes writers accept every correction and change, sometimes we arm wrestle over something, and sometimes—if my corrections, changes, and notes are extensive—there may be another back-and-forth exchange with the writer.

9. Once I have all the edited manuscripts in hand, I collect author bios, write an editorial or an introduction, and then organize everything, determining in which order stories will appear in the anthology or magazine issue.

10. Then I spellcheck the completed manuscript and print a hardcopy, which I read cover-to-cover.

11. If there are any additional corrections necessary at this point, I input them into the final manuscript, and then send it to the publisher.

I have had the opportunity to work with three co-editors—Trey R. Barker with Guns + Tacos, Gary Phillips with Jukes & Tonks, and Barb Goffman with A Project to be Named Later—and each brought a different skillset to the party. Even so, the process remained much the same, with each co-editor having a pass at each manuscript and adding their corrections, changes, and notes.

The ultimate goal, regardless of my process and regardless of whether I’m working alone or with a co-editor, is to ensure that each published story is the best it can be and that the final product is worthy of a reader’s time.

Though this is published post-Bouchercon, it was written pre-Bouchercon. I hope I had the opportunity to meet some of you there!


  1. A lot of work. I've tried to add something witty but I'm all out of wit and you're busy enough.

  2. Interesting to know what goes on behind the scenes at Bracken Enterprises! Hope you had a good time at Bouchercon.

  3. So THAT'S how you do it! Thanks for all your hard work, Michael!

  4. I used to print and edit on paper, but now I do everything online. It's helped me work faster, which I needed. It was great to see you last week.

  5. It’s a lengthy process—and I appreciate that you went through it all with my story “Ripen”. I’m notorious for those dashes and ellipses! (—Ashley Bernier)

  6. I still rely on reading hard copy. It's too easy to miss things on the computer, at least for me. Thanks for sharing your process. --Susan Oleksiw

  7. When I get a file back from the editor, first, I have a small panic attack. Then, I talk myself into opening the file. Finally, I accept the suggestions and curse myself for my stupid mistakes. Cursing the editor would be like shooting the messenger.


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