The book writing process has been likened to giving birth, and while that doesn’t translate in the remotest sense physically, there’s no doubt your first draft is the product of profound mental and emotional labor. You love it! It’s perfect! There’s nothing wrong with it! And then an editor comes along and has the audacity to suggest changes.
As you move from writing your first draft to editing it, the transition calls for a shift in perspective, one that can be hard to make as a new author. You are so emotionally and mentally close to your project that you may not realize how much you need that outside perspective to catch typos you’ve read over dozens of time, fix plot holes, and help you connect better to your reader.
And maybe that’s what you’re afraid of. You’re afraid of the changes, afraid that the editor just won’t understand your work, afraid your most beloved passages will be slashed to slivers.
Well, yes, there will be changes. Lots of them. And yes, your beloved passages might get a haircut. Or a transplant. But I encourage you to keep the greater picture in mind.
There is no writing without rewriting. No idea comes out fully formed, even though you may think it is. Lest you think I can’t identify with your fears, I want you to know that not only am I an editor, but I am also a writer myself. When I sent my first project to my editor, I too was nervous about what she would say. I received a ton of feedback on the depth and scope of what I was writing about. Even though I would’ve said my idea was fully formed, I needed that different perspective and professional eye. She had fantastic ideas and made my book stronger. That’s what an editor is supposed to do.
Depending on the type of publishing you choose, the editing process will look different. With a more traditional publishing company, multiple editors with different jobs will have their hands on your project. If you do self-publishing, you might just work with one editor. Whatever flavor of publishing you choose, know that the editors are there for you. We know what a labor of love a book is and we want it to shine bright. Here are five ways you can help us help you.
1) Ask About Style Guides
Do you plan to use repeating elements, like including scripture, quotes, or excerpts? Before you send off your draft to your editor, or even as you’re working on that first draft, reach out to find out if there are house style notes that you should be aware of. While Chicago Manual of Style is industry standard for book editing, each publishing house has a “house style.” By asking beforehand, you can keep formatting consistent, which will allow your editor more brain space as they move through your work.
If you’re not able to do any of that, at least keep your formatting consistent in the use of paragraphs, quotation marks, and parentheses. Don’t ask your editor to do major formatting like insertion of illustrations, charts, or graphs. Typically all formatting is removed when your manuscript moves to layout. When I send off my manuscript, they are in the barest bones Word document format. I typically will just bold chapter titles/subheads just to make it easier on the editor’s eyes.
2) Use Spellcheck
You would be shocked at how many authors don’t do this before sending their manuscript to an editor. It’s like not brushing your teeth for a few days before your dentist appointment because “Oh you know, they’ll clean them at the office, so why bother?”
Yes I know it’s my job to catch errors as an editor, but if you’ve misspelled the same word over and over, I will know those same red squiggly lines were staring at you too. Don’t be lazy with your book baby. At the bare minimum, run spellcheck before you send it off.
3) Don’t Navel Gaze
As an editor, I can quickly tell when you’re drawing mainly from your own experiences. Which in memoir or other similar formats is fine…in fact, it’s expected. But be wary of language which draws circles around your own experiences and excludes other ways of thinking or approaches. Stop and ask yourself, “What if my reader has this type of background?” “What if they don’t know XYZ?” “What if…?”
When you write a book, your reach is so much further than storytelling with friends around a firepit. People are going to be coming to your book with vastly different backgrounds, and you want as many of them as possible to find a seat at your table.
4) Don’t Be Lazy with Endings
One fiction manuscript I edited last year had a decent plot, but as I neared the end, I realized there were many loose ends to tie up in the remaining 10-15 pages. Within a few pages, the author “resolved” the plot by killing off the bad guys in a famous tragic event. With the barest of discussion, the main characters were taking a bow and then the book ended.
I kept asking myself as I scrolled through the last few pages, Did they really just do that? Did the book actually end that way?
We’ve all been there: running out of steam at the end of the book. Whatever you do, don’t do what that author did. Take a break, workshop the ending in your writers’ group, even ask your editor ahead of time for some insight on how to resolve the ending. Attempt to fix it now because I can assure you your editor will send it back to you.
5) Take Your Heart Off Your Sleeve
We know you have bled onto the paper—your passion shines through every active verb and chapter cliffhanger. But when it does come time to receive edits, do your best to approach them with a humble attitude and don’t ignore advice. The fact is that all the wisdom and insight to write a book doesn’t reside in one person. By the very nature of the writing process, a lot of people are going to have their hand on the project. You need the input. Trust me on this.
If there are edits you don’t agree with, take some time away from the manuscript and come back to it with fresh eyes. If you’re still struggling to get on the same page with the direction your editor is suggesting, keep the lines of communication open and let them know you’re struggling. In the end, a good editor won’t hijack your work, so keep dialoguing to come up with a solution that makes you both happy.
I leave you with some sage advice from the sage master himself, Dr. Seuss.
“So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.”—Dr. Seuss
Truer words couldn’t be said about the editing process, and it sums up what I most often tell my authors. Think of the reader. Don’t make their job more difficult. When in doubt, filter all edits through this lens and you’ll be a better writer for it. Your reader—and your editor—will thank you for it.
Samantha Hanni is a freelance writer and editor. Since 2015, she has authored four books and penned more than one hundred articles for various industries. Some of her work has appeared on the YouVersion Bible app, Devotional Diva, To Love Honor and Vacuum, Families Alive and the OCHEC Informer. Samantha has copyedited for The Odyssey Online and currently copyedits for a local publishing house. She also teaches creative writing and literature for homeschool highschoolers. She graduated from the University of Central Oklahoma with a degree in journalism.
Samantha and her husband Kurtis live in Oklahoma City with their dog, Podrick. You can read more of her work or query her for a project at mrshanni.com.