speculative visionscience fiction and fantasy

Putting on Your Editor's Hat

Our "How To" forum. Share your tips and techniques for being a better writer.

Moderators: Bmat, Qray

    Bookmark and Share

Putting on Your Editor's Hat

Postby Sara » Wed Aug 03, 2005 7:03 pm

I recently presented the following information as part of a discussion with a writing group about learning to self-edit. They seemed to enjoy the presentation and said they found the information helpful, so I'm posting it here, hoping some of you might find it of benefit, too. I wrote this article, and it's included as part of the writing resources section from my website.

Putting On Your Editor's Hat

After months of effort, computer-hogging and wearing calluses onto your fingertips, you have done it: you have completed Your Novel. Your manuscript sits on the corner of your desk, a stack of paper looming like Mount Ararat awaiting the arrival of Noah after the biblical Great Flood. The hard work is over, right? All that’s left is to shove it into an envelope, pay for postage and ship it off to your agent or publisher. Right?


Your work has really just started. Now it’s time to put on your trusty Editor’s Hat. Why? Because now matter how soundly researched or well-written; no matter how snappy your dialogue or clever your narrative, Your Novel is in its infancy. Unfortunately, it will not age like wine if you leave it alone long enough. Like any dutiful parent, it's up to you to shape it, formulate and sculpt it. Editing is the process that takes an original rough draft and transforms it into a marketable, publishable manuscript.

A couple of thoughts before we go. When you present Your Novel to a prospective agent or publisher, you want to offer them a manuscript that is 75,000-120,000 words in length. This varies genre to genre; it is usually a safe bet to aim for a manuscript of 110,000 words or less. Your manuscript should be double-spaced in 12-point Times New Roman font with one-inch margins observed all around per page (unless otherwise specified in individual submission guideleines).

And now, onto some general rules for Wearing the Editor’s Hat:

(1) “It’s the story, not the storyteller.” In other words, be objective. This is without question the most helpful piece of advice you can follow when editing your manuscript. A published author once told me this catch phrase. Although it took awhile, I finally took these words to heart. I have cut some of my most favorite scenes and dialogue lines from manuscripts before—it was painful, but necessary.

(2) If it doesn’t fit, it gets the snip. Remember Johnny Cochrane’s “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit?” When editing, tell yourself “If it doesn’t fit, it gets the snip.” (Not as clever a rhyme, I know.) When you are reading through your manuscript, trust your instincts as a READER not a WRITER and when something sounds out-of-place, or more importantly, out of the normal, natural rhythm and flow, cut it. When in doubt, ask yourself: does this add to the development of my plot, or does it distract?

(3) Heed Fox Mulder: “Trust no one.” Do not always trust your word processing program’s spell/grammar check. Installed dictionaries are not comprehensive. Use an auxiliary, unabridged dictionary, or invest in buying one to keep on hand. Grammar guides will not allow for creative writing devices, such as sentence fragments like this: Audrey frowned as her daughter cursed aloud. “Charlotte, darling, your mouth.”

(4) Swing both ways. Edit on screen AND hard copy. For whatever reason, I can look at something a thousand times on my computer screen and not catch an error; when I see it on paper, the error is apparent. Tertiary rounds of editing on screen, followed by several rounds of red-pen-meets-paper-copy editing work best for me.

(5) Talk to yourself. Read your work aloud. By doing this, you can hear whether or not dialogue and narrative follow a natural rhythm and flow.

(6) Shampoo, rinse, repeat. You will want to go through at least three editing rounds, if not more. Let some time pass between each manuscript editing round, even if it is only a few days. Clear your mind of your work so that you can approach the manuscript with a fresh point of view each time.

(7) Play by the rules. If you’ve ever taken a journalism course in school, you learned the Associated Press (AP) AND Chicago Manual (CM) styles of writing. These are universally acceptable styles, meaning no matter an individual publisher’s style requirements, they generally accept the CM or AP style demonstrated in a manuscript. Almost every bookstore has copies of “The AP Style Guide” and “Chicago Manual of Style” available; it’s worth it to pick up reference copies.

(8) Speak English. As a writer, you are undoubtedly familiar with grammatical rules such as sentence structure, subject/verb agreement, modifier usage, etc. But if you’re in doubt, now is as good a time as any to refamiliarize yourself with the basics.

(9) Practice what you preach. Like writing, editing is a discipline that must be learned and practiced. How do you practice? Edit your own material. Edit anything you read: newspaper articles, published books, magazines, etc.

You can also practice online. There are numerous virtual writing and editing groups on the web. The Critters Workshop for science-fiction, fantasy and horror writers is one of the best known editing groups: www.critters.org. Like many such groups, however, Critters requires you to maintain a quota of edited submissions not only before your own work will be considered for critique, but in order to maintain your membership.

(10) Please yourself. (or “You can please some of the people some of the time. You cannot please all of the people all of the time.”)

Remember, editing is 20% technique and 80% opinion. The key is to sharpen your manuscript to your own opinions of what constitutes “good.” Another editor may or may not agree with you.

(11) Indulge your inner Diva. The important thing is that when you learn to practice the objectivity it takes to hone your manuscript yourself, you will be able to present it with increased confidence to prospective agents or publishers. Your confidence in your work will be apparent. As with most other things in life, a positive attitude is a boon for prospective authors. And as with most other things, there will be plenty of times you feel discouraged.
Chin up, shoulders back and find the confidence and determination of your own inner Diva.
From worlds beyond imagination to the world of the past, discover the worlds of author Sara Reinke at www.sarareinke.com.
New User
New User
Posts: 68
Joined: Mon Apr 11, 2005 2:48 pm
Location: Kentucky


Postby aldan » Thu Aug 04, 2005 12:04 am

*aldan breathes deeply then sighs*

Ah, editing. I can usually do this pretty well when looking at others' work, but it usually takes quite a bit of time to distance myself far enough away from my story so that I can begin to see more than the most minor of typographical errors in it. One difficulty that many of us have (well, I do, and I know of at least three others here that do as well) is in wielding scissors with our own work very soon after it's written, but then after enough time has passed, we then pick it apart so thoroughly that we then begin to feel that it's garbage and that we just can't write well, or that our ideas just don't stack up. At times this may be true, but when our editors work dissuades us from continuing our writing work, that can be bad.

As for your bit of information, I'll tell you which I wish to draw attention to...

2) Perhaps you should make the phrase, "If it doesn't fit, you must omit," or "If it doesn't fit, delete it," or "If it doesn't fit, just remove it."

3) The "Trust no one" really applies, especially on this site. The spell check on this program doesn't even look at the sort of sentence the misspelled word's in. Instead it gives several different words that may fit what you're seeking. However, they also may not.

4) I like this suggestion! If you do indeed follow this advice and switch from editing the screen version to editing the actual physical manuscript, it'll help you SO much, IMO. Have you ever tried to read an entire novel through a computer monitor? It's difficult. Having the physical copy in your hand will give you a new visual lease on life. Just be sure you keep the original version and well as the most recently edited version printing from your computer. That way you will be able to still have bits available in case you've cut too deeply and lost an important story connection. Always Keep The Original, unedited except for small marks noting what's been removed in later versions (different colors of pen/pencil/marker should work well for that, with each color being a different editing try) and perhaps the spelling corrections having been already made (to make for the re-inserting to work more easily).

5) This is something that doesn't work for me in this manner. Instead I have to find someone I can trust to read my work to themselves and then tell me what they thought didn't work well. I then ask why and if it's not easy for them to answer I ask them to read it aloud to me. That usually will help us both.

#8 - *avoiding the code for the sly smile* I believe that most of you know how I feel. If you wish to get published, or to try to make a living in the field of writing, don't depend upon your editing programs, or upon a professional editor to make your writing understandable to the majority of readers who speak your language. Instead make the effort to actually LEARN to speak and write grammatically in your own language! Is that so much to ask??

11) Ah, this one goes well with what I earlier said about self-editing. Artists need to work very hard to become inured to the pain of actually having to change or remove parts of their work of art. However, they also need to avoid becoming frustrated that their work just isn't doing what they want it to. Most of us are very perfectionistic with our own work. I know that I am. If it's not working the way I think it should, I will want to throw something or drop something. Doing number 10, that is editing the work to try to make it readable but also making it more pleasurable to you, will make this one much easier to accomplish, because it will help you to know that it's the best you can do to make what you love, and when you get the response from the publisher/editor about the work, knowing that they didn't like your style (which should be fairly obvious by examining the type of response you get) you'll be able to realize that perhaps their company isn't the one for you, since it's obviously important for you and the publisher to at least start off on the same page.
"It is better to keep your mouth shut and to appear stupid than
to open it and remove all doubt."
---Mark Twain
User avatar
Artisan Wordsmith
Artisan Wordsmith
Posts: 3886
Joined: Sat Apr 09, 2005 11:46 am
Location: Ohio, right now...


Postby Sara » Sun Aug 14, 2005 8:08 pm

I have thought of another point to add -- one of the most important ones of all!

(12) Know when to say when. Editing can be a continuous process in that every time you look at your work, you can find something new and different to change and/or revise. Just as you must learn how to begin editing your own work, you must also learn to realize when you've done enough, and anything more is simply spinning your wheels.

From worlds beyond imagination to the world of the past, discover the worlds of author Sara Reinke at www.sarareinke.com.
New User
New User
Posts: 68
Joined: Mon Apr 11, 2005 2:48 pm
Location: Kentucky


Postby thegreentick » Mon Jul 17, 2006 1:24 pm

I believe it was once said that an author never finishes their book. They just give up on it.
"God is looking for spiritual fruits, not religious nuts."
User avatar
Forum Addict
Forum Addict
Posts: 636
Joined: Sat May 07, 2005 4:23 pm
Location: Mission, BC, Canada


Postby clknaps » Sat Jan 13, 2007 2:05 am

Sarah, I appreciated that immensely, thanks for posting. CLK
She sells seashells by the seashore.
Rubber baby buggy bumpers.
I shot the city sheriff.
User avatar
Site Regular
Site Regular
Posts: 235
Joined: Tue Jan 24, 2006 7:59 am
Location: A different place every day

Return to Guidelines for Writing

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests