Minimalist Editing: What It Isn’t

Yesterday, I talked about what minimalist editing is.

Today, I want to talk about what it isn’t.

Minimalist editing isn’t change for change’s sake. If I make an adjustment, a revision, or a suggestion, there has to be a reason—and a compelling one at that. Text should never be changed simply because I don’t agree with an opinion or would personally state something differently. And it certainly should never be changed because I believe I know better (or more) than the author.

This approach isn’t lazy, and it isn’t indifferent. On the contrary, I work hard for and care deeply about the projects I edit. By asking myself if a change is necessary, I’m forced to remember the two most important aspects of the edit: the author and the reader. What is the author trying to accomplish, and how can I (as an editor) help the reader understand that message?

George R. R. Martin wrote:

Yes, there are a lot of ways for editors to go wrong. Fortunately, a surprising number of them go right. It never ceases to amaze me. What is a good editor like? A good editor offers you decent advances, and goes to bat with his publisher to make sure your book gets promoted, and returns your phone calls, and answers your letters. A good editor does work with his writers on their books. But only if the books need work. A good editor tries to figure out what the writer was trying to do, and helps him or her do it better, rather than trying to change the book into something else entirely. A good editor doesn’t insist, or make changes without permission. Ultimately a writer lives or dies by his words, and he must always have the last word if his work is to retain its integrity.


Let us all hope to be “good editors,” minimalist or not.

Minimalist Editing: What It Is

As I wrote in yesterday’s post, I’ve adopted a minimalist approach to editing. But what does that actually look like?

Assuming an author asks for a standard edit, these are the corrections I will make per the rules set forth in both Merriam-Webster and the Chicago Manual of Style:

  1. misspellings
  2. commonly confused words
  3. punctuation (including quotation marks, dashes, ellipses, brackets, etc.)
  4. tenses
  5. titles (i.e., “Foreword,” “Contents,” etc.)
  6. fonts (for consistency)
  7. footnotes, endnotes, and in-text citations (but only for consistency)


For everything else, when I have questions, I query:

  1. awkward transitions (if this is manuscript-wide, I’ll query once for the entire text)
  2. redundancies
  3. inconsistencies (including point of view)
  4. quotes (I always research to make sure the quote is correct; if it isn’t, I query)
  5. source names and titles (if I can find the source, I always check it against the text)
  6. potential libel, defamation, and slander
  7. potential copyright infringement
  8. potential racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.
  9. anything that seems out of place (for example, if an idea sounds familiar but isn’t cited, I’ll research, then query if citation is needed)


Again, these are for a standard edit. Critiques, developmental edits, and the like differ depending upon what the client asks for.

No matter what, all editing follows the rule of “First, do no harm.”