Trouble Getting Published? An Editor’s Advice

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Today’s guest blog is by Editor Caroline Clouse. Caroline joined the Art of Storytelling team last week. Here she breaks down the five steps to editing your manuscript.

Long gone are the glory days in which publishers saw potential in writers and cultivated them into bestselling authors. Acquisition editors and literary agents are faced with overwhelming slush piles, and sloppy writing or blatant errors make it too easy for these publishing gatekeepers to toss books on the rejection pile before they get a chance to see the light of day. These days, manuscripts need to be in almost perfect condition before they’re submitted to anyone.

Many writers complete a few drafts, pass their books by a friend or two, do a few tweaks, and then think they’re finished. Proper editing takes months for a typical manuscript. As an editor with more than a decade of experience in the industry, I’ve compiled a summary of what I consider to be the best method for editing your book.

1. Get an Overview (Developmental Editing)

Most writers are too close to the material when they first finish their book. So take a break—two weeks to a month away from it. Then do a read-through in one sitting as if you were an agent.

  • Are there any holes?
  • What areas or arguments are weak and need to be fleshed out?
  • Is any information missing (perhaps due to previous revisions) that will render the reader confused?
  • Are sections or thoughts redundant?
  • Are there any major inconsistencies?
  • Does the material flow logically?
  • Have you vetted all facts? (Fact-checking for fiction is also important.)

2. Plot and Theme Issues (Developmental Editing/Substantive Copyediting)

After the overview, note where there may be problems with the plot or themes. This may require another read-through.

Make notes in the document and on a separate sheet of paper. That way you’re starting a compilation of information you can refer to separately from one another as you go through these steps.

  • Is your plot or purpose clear?
  • Are your major and minor themes clear?
  • For fiction, are your characters (and their actions) believable?
  • Does the plot progress with appropriate speed and build-up?
  • Is any part of the manuscript fast-forwarded… or in slow motion?
  • Are chapters around the same length? (For the most part they should be.)

Make notes here, as well.

3. Fix the Big Issues (Developmental Editing/Substantive Copyediting)

Go in and fix the issues mentioned in points 1 and 2 before you start line editing. Take notes as you go, as you’ll likely notice other items to repair. This step is time-consuming but well worth the effort. Rushing this could result in accidentally inserting additional errors; so proceed carefully.

4. Sweat the Small Stuff, Part 1 (Copyediting)

Now that you’ve smoothed out the overarching glitches, start at Chapter 1, Page 1, Sentence 1. In this step, you are improving on the sentence and word level, bettering the language where necessary. But don’t worry the writing so much that you lose the magic and soul of your book.

  • Look for errors in logic, mistakes or inconsistencies in name spellings and character ages, overusing certain words and phrases.
  • Notice how many sentences (especially in a row) have the same construction; vary these.
  • Watch out for the rosebush in the desert—the writing that sticks out because it doesn’t have the same feel as the text around it.
  • Make sure there are no errors in point of view.
  • Recast convoluted sentences or split them into two.
  • Don’t over-describe—you must leave some details up to the reader’s imagination.

5. Sweat the Small Stuff, Part 2 (Proofreading)

Go through the book with a fine-toothed comb. Now you’re using a metaphorical magnifying glass. You’re looking for errors in spelling, punctuation, and spacing; missing quotation marks and periods; consistent formatting; and instances of nonparallel construction. Even if you hire an outside proofreader, you should attempt this step first yourself.

Writers often feel exhausted when they’ve finished their books—and the editing process can seem overwhelming. Many have turned to hiring a professional editor and proofreader. Not only does this allow writers to relax and leave the fine-tuning to an expert, but someone unfamiliar with the manuscript can provide valuable feedback in areas the writer may not have realized were problematic.

Caroline Clouse is an editor with 10 years’ experience in a variety of areas, from science documentation to business books to literary novels. She is certified in Chicago Manual of Style editing and graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in journalism. For more information about Caroline and her editorial services, and for a free editing estimate visit Art of Storytelling, info.artofstorytelling@gmail.com.

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