Your manuscript needs to be polished and perfected, written at least four times, before you hand it over to an editor. It wouldn’t hurt to have a friend or two read it for larger, more obvious mistakes, too. It should be more like a term paper that’s ready to be turned in at the end of the semester. Then your editor, like your professor, can give his little red squiggles in the margins and write a few overall remarks to you.
Editors aren’t here to hold your hand and give you encouragement with every sentence you write. I’m sorry, but that’s what your mom is for. Neither is your editor here to tell you how to construct paragraphs and scenes. That is what your English teacher is for (and the columns on Prewriting and Rewriting here on Unstressed Syllables, and other writing advice sites). Editors are here to give the final review before you put your words out there for the rest of the public to see. They can gauge what your readers are going to like and what they are going to complain about, and they are giving you one last chance to correct those unenjoyable parts before it’s too late.
The sad truth of the matter is that your editor doesn’t have time to rewrite your book for you. As much as we want to help you become a great writer, we can’t take your rough draft and reconstruct the entire thing so that it sounds amazing. Well, we could, but you would have to pay us a lot more and put our names on the cover as your co-author.
Because that’s not what editors are for. We’re not here to write your book for you. So send us a book that is complete, that is written, not that is a rough draft. When I worked at Tate, many authors were afraid to take my suggestions because they were afraid that once they did so, the book would not be theirs any more. They were afraid, essentially, that I would rewrite their book. But if you’ve properly self-edited beforehand, that shouldn’t be a problem.
Not only does self-editing help eliminate a lot of work and rewriting that your editors don’t want to do, it can give you a confidence and humility in your own work.
Confidence and humility? How does that work?
Going back to my timid Tate authors, they were afraid that if they took my suggestions, that their book would become “tainted” by my voice and suggestions. But if they’d gone over their book multiple times, rewriting their own sentences, they’d come to know their own voice more confidently. They could have taken my suggestions and put it in their own words, keeping the tone theirs. Be confident in your book.
Conversely, when some authors get their edits back, they refuse to make changes because they’ve become too attached to their words. They think they are too wonderful to be subject to criticism. “My editor says that this sentence doesn’t fit here, but I slaved over this sentence! My readers will appreciate it more than she does.” If you’ve already taken a critical eye to your work three or four or five times, you’ve (hopefully) learned that there is nothing in your book that is perfect. Every word is subject to scrutiny. You’ve humbled yourself enough to realize that you can always make changes.
So. Sorry to break it to you, but you have a long road ahead before you’re ready to select a professional editor. Fortunately, you have me and all the other contributors here at Unstressed Syllables to help you get ready for that step. Come back next week to learn about getting ready for that second (and third and fourth) draft.
Jessie Sanders is the managing editor at Consortium Books, editor of the bestselling Dragonprince trilogy, and author of the young adult fantasy novel Into the Flames. Every Friday she shares an article about editing and how to improve one’s grammar.