When you sign a contract to write a book for a traditional publisher, your work will go through an editing process, whether you’re comfortable or not.
The first edit you receive will be the macro edit, which details any suggested changes in character, plot, pacing, structure, point of view, dialogue, or other major issues that would help make the manuscript stronger. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but no part of your manuscript is sacrosanct.
When I’m asked by a publisher to edit a novel for the first time, I follow a set of guidelines and ask myself a series of questions as I read through the manuscript.
A set of reference works also are mandatory, and I keep updated copies on my desk, although both are available online as well:
- The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition
- Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged
Here are some of the questions I ask as I read through a manuscript:
- Did the author begin the novel too early or include too much back story?
- Did the story begin too late?
- Are the characters’ actions and dialogue consistent and believable?
- Is the main plot and all subsequent plotlines clearly resolved?
- Is there enough conflict to make the story compelling?
- Do the turning points/inciting incidents appear in the right places?
- Is a subplot necessary or is it a “rabbit trail”?
- Would a subplot enrich the book?
- Does the plot sag in places?
- Is there a satisfying balance between narrative and dialogue?
- Does the author “tell” instead of “show” in places?
- Is the point of view consistent or does it leap back and forth in the same scene, causing “bouncing-head syndrome”?
- Are there redundant descriptions and scenes?
- Does the author tie up all loose ends by the end of the book?
Within the body of the manuscript, I turn on the track changes feature and use comment boxes to point out those places where a manuscript can be strengthened. I might also correct obvious spelling or grammatical errors or highlight examples of pet words and repetitive sentence structure.
I also prepare a cover sheet for general comments. This allows the in-house editor and the author to see overall comments without having to scroll through the text.
The in-house editor then passes on this letter to the author along with the manuscript and the imbedded comments. When dealing with an author, I strive to be diplomatic, sensitive, and tactful in all of my communications.
Suggested changes may vary from light to a complete rewrite. When the manuscript with the author’s changes is sent back to the in-house editor, it then enters the content/substantive/line edit stage.
Publishing is a team sport. Even though you may lead a solitary life as an author, when a publisher buys your work, you will work with an editor at some point in your journey. This relationship can either be full of conflict or a match made in heaven. When the two parties involved respect the other’s talents, the working relationship runs smoothly. Know when to fight for what you believe in or when it’s only your ego that’s bruised.
Has someone ever edited your work? How well did you work together? Did your manuscript benefit from an editor’s viewpoint? Let us know about your experience!