Eight Ways to Make Your Editor Do the Happy Dance
Posted August 22, 2016on:
Some of you may know that in addition to writing books and blogs, I also work as a freelance editor. Over the years, I’ve edited a wide variety of publications from white papers, newsletters, articles and business letters to Bible studies, short stories, memoirs and novels. I’ve met a lot of great people along the way and learned much about the writing process.
The key insight I’ve gained is that writing intended for publication, whether it’s traditional, partner or self-publication, should be sifted through an editor filter. Why? Because we authors tend to read what’s in our heads, not what’s on the computer screen. We also have trouble pinpointing weaknesses in our own manuscripts. Editors who have no emotional attachment to our work can provide unbiased, professional feedback. Even editors need editors. My writing is always improved by an editor’s candid comments, more than you might imagine.
Just so you know, an editor’s job is not to clean up your first-draft mess; rather, it’s to hone your second, third, fourth, fifth draft—whatever it takes for you to submit your very best work. In order to receive the most benefit for your investment when you hire an editor, take these suggestions to heart.
- Read. I’m always surprised when someone says they don’t like to read but they want to write a book. Reading teaches us word usage, sentence construction, paragraph rhythm and flow, a feel for building tension, scene and sequel construction, character development and so much more. Read everything, from newspapers to novels, blogs to biographies, cereal boxes to political soap boxes. “At the risk of sounding obvious, good writers are first and foremost good readers.” (Joseph Bates, July/August 2016 Writer’s Digest)
- Study. Study the craft of writing. In order to move your writing from good to best, take writing classes, attend workshops, seminars and conferences, listen to writer-focused podcasts and webinars, read how-to magazines, blogs, newsletters and books. Send me an email if you’d like recommendations (firstname.lastname@example.org).
- Learn. Learn correct grammar and punctuation. Few manuscripts arrive on an editor’s desk with perfect grammar and punctuation, which is expected; however, you’ll do yourself a favor if you learn how to properly use the English language, and your editor and readers will appreciate your effort. Instructional websites abound online that specialize in English usage.
- Follow. Follow formatting rules. Your agent, editor or publisher will provide format guidelines. These vary slightly from person/publisher to person/publisher. I ask writers to submit their work in a Word doc with one-inch margins all around and that they use a 12-point Times New Roman font. I also ask that the lines be double-spaced and the paragraphs automatically indented five spaces (not spaced or tabbed). Each chapter should begin approximately one-third of the way down the page, and page breaks should separate chapters rather than multiple line spaces. (Please don’t add frills and fancy fonts, etc. to your submission. Plain text is great. When your manuscript is ready for publication, the publisher or you or your formatter can bold the chapter headings, enlarge the fonts, add section breaks and whatever else is required to make it look pretty.)
- Double-check. Check for wordiness, which can involve searching out repeated information, redundancies and overwriting. Oftentimes, a forty-word sentence can be written in five to twenty words. Strive to be clear and concise.
- Enlist. Ask your well-read friends, colleagues and critique group to serve as beta readers. I suggest a minimum of three people other than or in addition to family members (I enlist six to twelve beta readers). Ask them for honest feedback and accept it with gratitude, not defensiveness. You may not choose to use their input, but when they take the time to read your work and offer you advice, thank them and include their name in your book’s acknowledgements. And gift them with an autographed copy of your published book (or a trip to the Bahamas…your choice). My experience is that beta-reader and critique-group input is priceless.
- Fix. Make changes as you see fit and set the manuscript aside for a couple weeks. After you’ve had time away from your project, you’ll see it with fresh eyes. Again, fix as needed and then, ta-da…hit the send button to shoot your manuscript to your editor, which leads us to number eight.
- Grow. Similar to number six above, appreciate your editor’s input. Accept his or her comments and suggestions without defensiveness. Feel free to disagree, to dialogue about issues and to ask questions, but do so as a student who’s anxious to learn and grow into a better writer.
Wishing you fabulous final weeks of summer filled with sunshine, good books and great writing! Becky