sold! Congratulations! Ready for hard part?
Uh . . . no. You’re not
finished with your manuscript just because you sold it. Now comes the
first of many rounds of editing. Just remember that writing is
solitary. Editing is solitary. But publishing—the
blending of the two—is a partnership.
But, first, a pause for a few
Over the past thirty years, I’ve
worked on staff or as a freelance editor for about two dozen
publishers. All take a fiction manuscript through similar stages,
although the stages may have different names and those names may
overlap. But they usually flow like this:
1) The “big picture” edit (also
called the macro, content, substantive, or structure edit) takes a look
at character arcs, plot structure (and the resulting holes), house or
line conventions (such as HEAs, conversions, timelines, faith elements,
or endgame weddings). This is when such comments arise as:
the dark moment a true abyss
or just a wrong turn?
Why didn’t you finish subplot A?
Too much backstory in chapter 1, and
your first plot point arrives way too soon.
Why did Sally disappear after page 240?
There’s too much sexual chemistry between your heroine and the hero’s
Why is your heroine’s sister pregnant for eighteen months?
(Yes, it happens)
2) The “detail” edit (also
called the line, content, substantive, or copyedit) is when the
manuscript is read for details such as changing eye color, fact versus
fiction details, corrections made after the “big picture, etc. This is
when you’ll get such comments as:
didn’t make a Corvette
that year, and never with a two-cylinder engine.
My guess is that Jeff won’t really be able to pick up a piece of
granite the size of a car engine without a little help.
I’m not sure any coastal area of Louisiana could be considered “arid.”
The “west coast” of Florida is a local description that doesn’t include
the panhandle. It’s different from “the Gulf Coast,” and they aren’t
Why is your heroine’s sister still pregnant for
The “picky” edit (also called the line, copy, or content edit) is when
such things as pacing, grammar, passive voice, etc., are addressed.
This is when the manuscript may look like a truck ran over it, and
you’ll wonder if you forgot how to write or why they bought the nasty
thing in the first place.
these are complete, your
manuscript will be sent to typesetting, and the proofreading stages
begin. Some publishers combine 1 and 2; some combine 2 and 3. Some add
a fourth, just to be sure, especially if your heroine’s sister hasn’t
had that baby yet.
Take a breath. Maybe a cold
drink. And don’t give up.
A good fiction editor will be
your friend and ally. Her job (yes, I know some editors are male, but
it’s not called a “pink collar” profession for nothing) is to work with
you to make your book the best it can be. To make your
book in your voice soar higher and farther for the
readers than you had ever hoped. She’s trained to see the “big picture”
that you, the author, may not be able to because of either lack of
experience or unfamiliarity with a publisher’s line and house style.
(And, no, serial commas are not universal.)
Try to remember that the number
of good fiction editors in the U.S. is very small. In terms of other
professions, even editorial professions, it’s extremely small. There
might be 250 to 300 of us. Maybe. Especially those who can handle a
“big picture” edit. And I can count on one hand the number of “picky”
editors I trust with a novel.
We do this not just because we
love books and words but because we love fiction.
And want yours to fly.
Unless they’re trained in the
field or are published novelists, English teachers don’t usually make
good fiction editors. The same with nonfiction editors or proofreaders
who work for the local paper. They cannot make your book “perfect.” In
fact, I had to learn the hard way that excellent nonfiction editors
can, in fact, be detrimental to a novel—I’ve been known to strip a
manuscript of all edits after such an event and start from scratch.
So . . . yes, you will be
edited, probably more than you expected. But also don’t be afraid to
question changes that you feel go too far. The key is to remember who
your readers are. Will the edit help you reach them and keep you from
tripping them out of the story? Does it make your book better or just
It’s give-and-take. Partner with
your editor. Then go on to write the next book. After all, she’s
waiting for it.