Five Things All Writers Must Know About Editing

Editing is objective

Unlike peer-critiquing and beta reading, an editor’s job is not to express her opinion about what “feels” right or what “seems” like the best solution to a particular problem. An editor’s job is to spot errors and fix them. It is her job to know the rules and know how to break them; to stay up-to-speed with both the literary market and any significant changes to style guides like APA and The Chicago Manual of Style.

How does she do this? By attending writers’ conferences and professional networking events; by reading articles from sources like PUBLISHERS WEEKLY and WRITERS DIGEST; through her experience working with dynamic authors (like you!) on a wide variety of projects; finally, she keeps herself professionally sharp by testing and honing her craft.

Today’s literary market is saturated, competitive, and unforgiving. There is no room for error, so an editor must continually work to develop her professional skills.

Editing is subjective

But…you just said…

Yeah, I know. While an editor must remain objective in order to ensure your manuscript is error-free and marketable, there will be times when she is approached with a project that’s so outside-the-box, she simply can’t resist it. If editors turned down every project that strayed from the “norm,” nothing original would ever get published.

When making decisions on a subjective basis, an editor must tread with caution. As an artist herself, she must see the value in “breaking the rules,” and she should be completely transparent with the author before doing so. No editor should wish to dampen a writer’s creativity or artistic integrity, nor should an editor lead you astray. If what you’re doing is deliciously risky, but doesn’t necessarily follow today’s literary conventions, you should know.

Additionally, her intention for taking on such projects, or for offering her subjective opinion when faced with problems in your manuscript, should be based on reason—not a feeling. Talk to your editor. Make sure you’re speaking with someone whose intelligence matches or exceeds your own. Otherwise, why bother?

You need to self-edit

Let’s face it: you have an emotional bond with your manuscript. You’ve spent months or even years envisioning it as a whole and laboring over the smallest details. It’s your “baby,” isn’t it?

STANDING BACK and looking at your work from an objective viewpoint is a practice that will not only make your editor like you more (self-edited manuscripts are a professional editor’s dream!), it will also develop a skill that will help you in writing and in life. If you can objectively evaluate your manuscript’s pacing and structure, recognize issues with plot, character, theme, etc., polish your prose and re-work your dialogue so it flows more naturally, you will have a much better command over your own writing—which should be one of a career writer’s major goals.

Need a quicker reward for learning to self-edit effectively? The better condition your manuscript is in when your editor receives it, the less substantive editing will be required, which means lower editing costs for you—and a better working relationship with your (hopefully) long-term editor. Win-win!

You need a professional edit

Ideally, your manuscript has already been critiqued/beta read and self-edited before it arrives in your editor’s inbox. It has been torn apart and put back together based off of mostly subjective feedback. Unless you have formal training of your own–and you keep up with the market and continuously hone the editing skills of a professional–you cannot be objective enough to identify and fix the problems with your manuscript.

That doesn’t mean you have to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars on a professional edit. If your budget is tight, find an editor who’s just starting out. She’ll typically work for a smaller fee in order to build her professional portfolio. Or enlist a friend (one who isn’t too worried about hurting your feelings). You know that “Grammar Nazi” or “Lit Nerd” you’re friends with? What about your writer/agent/publishing friend who’s relatively in-touch with the market? See if they’d willing to edit your manuscript at a discounted rate.

Note: If your editor is the first person (besides you) to evaluate your manuscript, she is essentially a beta reader to start, meaning your manuscript could be in store for some serious revising. If you’ve already been critiqued—and have consequently revised your manuscript to the point of exhaustion—then your editor’s job is to make your manuscript more perfectly itself, and not necessarily to suggest major structural or developmental changes. Your manuscript has been through that already (that is, if your beta readers are any good). This is one of the major differences between a critique and a professional edit.

Writing is a solitary endeavor; editing is collaborative

Because certain elements of your novel will likely require a subjective opinion—either yours or your editor’s—it’s imperative that you work together to discuss these elements as objectively as possible. But let’s face it: hearing someone’s objective reasoning as to why something is or isn’t “working” requires a great deal of respect for that person. Your editor must be a good listener, someone who respects and admires your work, and who seeks to understand you and to help you achieve your literary goals. Likewise, you must find yourself working with an editor whose opinion you respect, too. Your manuscript may be shared between the two of you for several weeks or even months. You may exchange countless emails and telephone calls. Not all manuscripts require as much intensive collaboration, but for those that do, you should find an editor you “jive” well with on multiple levels: namely personality, work ethic, and creative vision.

If you’re ready for a professional edit, or you’d like more direction about what to do next with your manuscript, send me an email! I’d love to hear about your writing endeavors, as well as offer my professional guidance: michelle@mjbookeditor.com.

Happy Writing!

MJ

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