If you’ve taken the self-published route, you have a little more than a hint of control-freak in you. I know I do. However, there comes a point in every manuscript’s life when you have to hand it over to someone else. There are some things you just shouldn’t do yourself.
Everyone’s writing journey is unique but the thing all authors have in common is the need, nay, the requirement, of an amazing editor. While there are several types of editing your book needs before you release it out into the world, I’m going to focus on the one particular type that impacted me the most: content editing also referred to as developmental or substantive.
By the time I was ready to send my first novel, The White Raven, out for editing, I knew it wasn’t perfect but I could no longer see the problems. I knew I had timeline and consistency issues, but for the life of me, I couldn’t find them in all those words. You reach a point where you have been so close to those words for so long, they become a part of you. You are so emotionally invested in those words that you can’t see the flaws that are staring you in the face, literally. You need a detached, knowledgeable third party hound dog to find them. Enter the editor.
“Sometimes a content editor is like a structural engineer, showing you the weaknesses in your foundation and how to repair them so that your story is strong.” —Kristen Tate, Editor
When I got the email back from my editor after she’d reviewed my manuscript, my palms were sweating. I opened the attached document with closed eyes and peeked through one eye just to have my vision assaulted by a wash of red and long blocks of comments. My stomach did a flip-flop.
But it wasn’t as bad as it initially looked. Not in the least. She did exactly what I needed her to do, and then some!
Through gentle and positive coaching, she detailed what areas of my story needed help, when and where the pacing lagged, and pointed out things I wasn’t aware of, such as one of the early sub plots not being integrated as well as it could be with the overall story. And in some scenes (particularly at the end of a chapter), I went off the rails, rattling on and on, which lost the emotional momentum of the scene. She identified areas of concerns that I smacked myself on the forehead over. Ugh! Of course, shame on me for missing those. (Leaves in August in New England would still be green, not turning to autumn colors. Smack!) Each line of her editorial letter and each comment and suggestion she had in my manuscript helped me see all those words in a new light and from different angles, which I sorely needed.
Something I really loved about my editor was her insightful suggestions to remedy whatever predicament I’d gotten myself into with a scene. Those suggestions proved invaluable. How the scene was constructed and how it flowed were so ingrained in my mind that I would have struggled dearly to find another way to retell it.
One key critique was that I had developed the relationship between the main character and the love interest a great deal in narrative and summary. Many of the scenes and details would pull in the reader more, bring the love interest to life better, if I turned that summary into dialog—have these scenes as conversations between the two, then the reader would be able to identify and connect with the character better. This proved to be a wonderful suggestion. In creating the new content, I added more depth to the scene, more life and richness to the character, and had great fun doing it.
I think it’s safe to say I took about 85% of her suggestions. I didn’t let my pride get in the way. What matters most is having a strong, tight story, free of holes and inconsistencies, that grabs readers and doesn’t let them go.
To be honest, I was very nervous making all these changes. A part of me felt like I was violating something sacred. I lost sleep over what I was doing to the story I loved so much. Once I had finished and read through it all again, I loved the story even more, which I didn’t think was possible. I saw how much these changes enhanced the story line and the characters, and how richer the scenes had become. It made me giddy with excitement.
My editor has become my partner—someone I can ping in the evenings or on the weekend with a question, a problem, or a thought to discuss or to simply tell her some good news. I can’t say whether other editors do this as this is my first adventure into writing, but I can say without a doubt that having a relationship with your editor is critical. An amazing editor has invested a lot of time in your novel. They’ve pondered its problems, ruminated on ways to improve it, and worried about the characters’ development and likability, just to name a few. An amazing editor can take your novel to the level of greatness it needs to be, that you want it to be. I’ll never be without one.
In a former life, Carrie D. Miller was an executive in the software industry. Her career in the technology world included software product management, website design, training, and technical writing just to name a few. At the age of 45, she decided to chuck it all to become an author which had been a life-long dream.
When her nose is not in a book or in front of a monitor, she can be found inventing cocktails, hanging out at the dog park, or in the kitchen making something yummy and unhealthy.
At present, she lives in a far-flung suburb of Dallas, Texas, with her long-time boyfriend and two rescues, a semi-feral cat and derpy German Shepherd.
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You make excellent points. I will have to get an editor when my book is ready.