Let me start off by saying this:
Most people do not enjoy getting edited.
My very first editor told me it sounded like I was trying too hard.
(Of course I was, I wanted to get published.)
An accomplished writer friend of mine put it this way the other day over lunch:
“Once you get over the initial shock, you put your writing aside, then a few days later you pick it back up and realize that the editors were probably right about a lot of things.”
I can tell you this: Kim and I, knowing how delicate editing can be, try very hard to be as gentle when making comments and suggestions as is humanly possible.
When a writer is in the Developmental Editing stage, editors can be extremely valuable when it comes to helping more clearly form the idea of your book. All of you have spent time talking about your manuscript concept. The questions we ask are designed to help construct a fuller vision of the book you want to write. From there, a basic skeleton outline is formed, a great help when you’re ready to tap out the first draft. When a first draft is complete, your editors will read through it, offering suggestions on several different things:
Does the order make sense? Will this book be written chronologically, or begin with the crux of the story and work its way back with what led up to it? If self-help, will it begin by describing the problems, or offer solutions first?
Rearrangement of Ideas for Better Flow
With the first draft, your biggest task is just to get the ideas down. Once this is done, outside input on the arrangement of each thought can prove to be very valuable. If there is a ‘hiccup’ in the flow, or a portion that’s too long or ill-placed, you could confuse your readers, or lose their attention.
Any Gaps or Missing Information
For example, if industry-related jargon is used that the common reader won’t understand, or if a name or idea is introduced that the reader might have trouble connecting to the previous thoughts, such as a sudden rich uncle that was never properly introduced into the text.
Points to Enhance
Often, there is GOLD within the manuscript that the writer isn’t extremely aware of. A phrase, or two words put together that could grow into a powerful paragraph. We as editors help you to see where the gold like that is.
Narrative: choosing the type and style, the voice you’re portraying Conversational, lecture-y, all business, authoritative, etc. We also make sure that once you pick your style and voice, you stay true to it throughout the manuscript. Sometimes writers tend to switch out mid-stream.
Story of "Missed It" Book
About fifteen years ago, I read a manuscript that, in the beginning, knocked it out of the ball park. I can still remember it, it was historical fiction, descriptive, exciting, and had a strong female main character. She did incredible, gutsy things. Three-quarters of the way through the manuscript, my strong main character fell in love, lost her moxie, and turned to mush. I can’t tell you how disappointed I was, and still am. As editors, we want to make sure that doesn’t happen in any book.
When we get to Substantive editing, in my opinion, it’s in that stage when a writer needs to first don their thick skin. You’ve just pounded out that first draft, and it’s been a labor of love. You feel you’ve put in your best effort, there has been no small amount of mental and physical exertion, and you’re proud of what you’ve done, as well you should be. But, in the famous words of a friend of mine in the broadcasting business: “Do you want advice, or approval?”
Most of us, once we’ve finished that first laborious draft, are looking for the latter. I know I always am.
It’s an editor’s job to view a manuscript from the angle of the reader. Even if it’s the best story or self-help idea ever, if the presentation is hard to read or unclear, you won’t get your message across, which is the main goal.
The things we’re always going to be looking out for are:
Are we seeing the same words or phrases over and over again? ---Just about everyone does this to some degree---Why is this not okay? Because readers, either consciously or subconsciously, pick up on patterns. Once they do, the wording will begin to lull them into disinterest, something we don’t want.
Also, the same thoughts might be expressed more than once in different places and in different ways. This an attentive reader will also pick up on. If we catch these within your manuscript, we’ll comment on them. This does two great things for the manuscript: a) creates more room for other thoughts and b) keeps things fresh.
Thesaurus: This is where the good old thesaurus can become your best friend. You don’t want to use cliché phrases or the same old overused words. Instead of the term ‘words’, like I just used, you could say ‘expressions’, ‘messages’, or ‘remarks’. Variety being the spice, your thesaurus is the spice cupboard.
Does the wording go drastically from calm to radical, or soft to dramatic in a manner that’s not conducive to what is being said? Are there multiple exclamation points, or words all in caps?---If the writing is strong enough, you won’t need either exclamation points or caps, never wanting to sound like the reader is getting yelled at or advertised to. (I repeat, strong writing does not require exclamation points.)
Is it consistently the writer’s, or does the personality fluctuate?
Many writers tend to ‘hide’ within their narratives, even though they feel deeply about their subject or story. Sometimes they’ll start out being extremely open, and then recede into a more gray, dull narrative. If we see this, we might not express it to the author in those exact words, but ask questions and make suggestions to bring them back out. Also, an editors’ job is not to change your manuscript so much that you no longer see the ‘you’ in it. Quite the contrary. The other day, an author friend told me that his book he’d had worked on elsewhere wasn’t even recognizable after his editor got through with it. In my opinion, this is an epic editor fail. Our job is to see to it that your voice comes through.
Three more super important things to keep in mind while working on your manuscript:
The best advice I ever got from a seasoned writer: Be brief.
Say the most in the least amount of words. Readers’ minds like this, they like the challenge of the subtle versus the long, drawn-out, obvious sentences. Readers like to think for themselves, and leaving nothing unsaid robs them of this.
Often it can be difficult to translate a thought, memory, or scene from our minds onto the keyboard. A lot can get lost in translation, too. Try to view what you’re writing as if reading it for the first time, and try to be considerate of your readers. If appropriate, when describing something, try to give background. In both fiction and nonfiction, hit as many of the five senses with your words as possible. Sight, sound, taste, touch, smell.
Readers are smart. They know when someone isn’t telling the whole story, holding back. I once interviewed the owner of a huge, very successful business, and asked him more than once how he came to own such an empire. He was evasive. When the recorder was shut off, he suddenly shared that he’d acquired the business through a divorce. How different that story would have been, (and how much more authentic), had he been forthcoming. He could have stated that something good had come from a difficult situation, and talked about how he’d worked really hard, building what he’d gained the hard way, on his own merits, into an even larger empire. Now that would have been a good and very relatable story. Having to go with the content of the interview, the printed story lacked truth and luster. When writing, in many cases you’re better off with as much transparency as possible.
As editors, we’ll re-work sentences and paragraphs so that your word count is decreased (because very few people want to read an 800-page book these days). In doing this, though, the intent is not to change the meaning at all. In fact, often when a paragraph or sentence is pulled in with tighter writing, the meaning is enhanced.
Yes, that’s the beginning of it---less drama and the less ego. But what you then discover is that you actually get bottom line benefits.
What I encourage my clients to do is give me a list of all the stuff that they care about in their strategic plan. What are their goals? What are they trying to change?
That’s the beginning of it. Less drama and ego. You then discover that the bottom line gets the benefits.
I encourage my clients to list everything they care about within their strategic plan. What are their goals, what are they trying to change?
In many cases, edits are hardly noticeable, other than the fact that the reading moves along at a livelier pace.
First and foremost, your editors are your friends, we’re here to help, and we want to see your book on the bestseller list!