Thursday, October 24, 2013

You want me to change what?

You have finished your first novel. You are absolutely in love with every jot and tittle. You believe it is beyond perfection. All of the hard work you put into it has been noticed and you have been offered a contract by a publisher. Then your freshly minted manuscript is sent off to an editor. You wait, perhaps not so patiently, to hear the editor’s glowing praise of your unparalleled skill. Finally, the email appears in your inbox and you can barely contain your excitement. Oh no, what is that you hear? It couldn’t be maniacal laughter.

That may be a bit melodramatic but any author out there who says those very first editorial comments weren’t at least a little disappointing is in denial. Here is the crux of the problem. As writers we know so very much about the world and characters we have created and we have become so close to our creation, the idea of altering it in any way is repugnant.
However, before you fire off that blistering email, just remember the editor has exactly the same goal as you do—making your book shine. A skilled editor is looking at a manuscript from a potential reader’s perspective. As an author who has lived and breathed her manuscript, I don’t believe any of us can truly do that. However, while you are the only one to receive an editor’s comments, readers will share their opinion with the world. Then if the book isn’t quite as perfect as you believed, the criticism may be very painful indeed.
The editor stands between you and this harsh reality. An editor wants your book to be successful and knows the business. He or she is looking to take your beautiful creation, tweak it as needed then polish it to a high gloss. Trust me when I tell you, you want this. You want to find the flaws. You want to improve the pace. You want the editor to apply the polish liberally.
I loved my initial manuscript for Highland Solution. However, I was realistic enough to accept that I knew nothing about publishing or selling books. Thankfully, my talented editor did. The editorial process was lengthy but each set of edits dramatically improved the readability of the story. The results were astounding. Many of the positive reviewers of Highland Solution have commented on the pace, making statements like “I was pulled into the story quickly,” “I could not put it down,” or “No boring sections that make you want to skip through, every part is entertaining.” I can promise you this is not what readers would have said if the editor hadn’t applied the polish.
My advice to authors? Accept that even an excellent manuscript can be made better. View your editor as a partner who wants to help you produce the finest book possible; which is both appealing to, and well received by your target audience. You won’t regret it.

All the best,


Anonymous said...


I thought it was just me with the blood dripping from the editors comments (g)

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

I have an excellent editor right now and agree whole heartedly.

Unknown said...

I can't imagine being on the other side (notice I didn't say the dark side), knowing a good manuscript could be great with revisions, only to meet resistance or hostility from the author. That must be terribly frustrating.

Liz Fountain said...

Very true. A good editor is worth his or her weight in gold. Although I've heard that maniacal laugh, and it's always a bit disturbing...


Champagne Book Group said...

Ceci, you hit it on the head when you said authors are simply too close to the material to be impartial. And how can you be? You've spent months, if not years writing that manuscript, only to have some editor tell you to change your carefully selected prose. But we do it with the best of intentions. We DO know what our readers pick up, what they put down, and what they want to read again and again. Our goal is to make that manuscript a bestselling novel. We can't do that with huge push back from the author.

What I always tell authors who complain to me about their editors (and yes, I do get those emails that say 'so-and-so is being unreasonable')is to take a breath and remember that we're on the same side. Your editor is your best friend when working through your manuscript, and your best advocate with the publisher when something goes awry. And if you have a huge disagreement about some requested change, make your case as eloquently as possible. You never know, sometimes you may just get your way.


Anonymous said...


You couldn't have said this better!

It is so true and a mature attitude for a writer to have. As an editor I can tell you that reading a manuscript from an author is a rewarding experience, and when I'm making notes of things that need strengthening that's because I've seen how far this author has taken their prose - I'm looking at it and putting my energy into the project now to make it even better.

(And let's face it, two minds at work often bring amazing collaborative energy to a project!)

That said, as a writer I can relate to the other side of your ideas: I spent a year finishing my current book and will be revising it for at least 2-3 months before I submit. I'm looking at a minimum of 60 hours of work to go over every wrinkle I can think of (and as writer, you should do all this before submitting, because it's not fair for your editor to decide after contract that you've still got big changes to make), but I'm still dreading how it will be received by my editor. I think the fear is that, as you put it, we invest so much personal energy in our stories that we're afraid of hearing, "this isn't good," -- to the point that hearing any critical feedback is tantamount to that very message.

The way I've come to look at it, my editor will not suggest I change the story as it is true to me, but will instead have the same goal as I do, to make it better, and since I LOVE revision, this will be an exciting time to push the manuscript further than I could on my own.

(Add to this, however, another important message for writers: don't let an editor or anyone tell you how your story should be written. Rather, let your editor challenge you to question the writing you've produced so you can be sure it's written how you intend.)