Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Before You Submit: Editing

I cannot overstate this enough: do not submit a first draft.

The first thing you should do after typing "The End" and feeling the thrill of accomplishment is not open your email and start drafting your submissions letter to the publisher. No, the first thing you should do is edit your shit.

Yes, the publisher you submit to will very likely have editors on staff. However, it is not solely the publisher's responsibility to clean up your manuscript and whip it into shape. When you submit to a publisher, you're selling a product. You should do everything in your power to make certain that product is in the best possible condition.

I recommend the following methods:

1) Put the manuscript away (out of sight, out of mind) for a minimum two (2) weeks. Don't read it, don't poke at it, don't scribble notes. Just leave it alone and work on something else. Only after two weeks have passed should you even thinking about opening up that document and looking over you manuscript again.

When you do, take an honest, critical eye to your manuscript. You're not just looking for typos, you're looking to fix everything. No first draft is ever perfect; don't expect yours to be. Be prepared to remove/revise/add large portions of the text. Also be ready and willing to do some additional research to verify/add clarity to some parts things.

Even second & third drafts can be imperfect, so once the self-editing is completed you should then...

2) Forward your manuscript to a beta reader/pre-reader/editor friend who owes you a favor. I strongly recommend having a beta reader of some sort on hand. A beta reader is, after all, a reader, and they will be able to give you comments/suggestions from the perspective of a reader. And if they're asking these questions now, the odds are good other readers will ask them later. So pay attention and take their comments to heart.

Be prepared to make even more revisions.

Note: Saying that you can't find a beta reader is not an excuse. There are all sorts of communities and groups out there for just that thing. If you hang out in places such as Twitter or Tumblr, it's usually as easy as posting a request. Odds are there are more than a few experienced, eager betas there who would be willing to help you out.

In the end, you should expect that it will be at least one month from the time you complete your first draft to the time you're ready to submit your manuscript. And that's if you rush through the edits.

Don't rush through the edits.

Take your time and be as thorough as possible. And don't assume the editor reviewing your submission won't be able to tell if they're reading a first draft. I would say little more than half of the manuscripts LT3 rejects is because of the editing (or lack of) and the fact that the manuscript is clearly a first draft. 

Editing is a very important part of the writing process. Please don't skip it. 


  1. I know this is an old post, but I just stumbled across it looking for something else. This may be a good idea to give to editors as well, since many editing mistakes do slip by into the final product. I can't tell you how frustrating it is to have paid $7 or $8 for a book and still see typos, character confusion, wrong tenses, missing words/articles, misuse of commas, etc. (esp. in the e-book market). It makes me wonder if the editor even read through the draft or just did a general grammar/spell check in Word and OK'd it for publishing without really going through it. More often than not, it gets to the point that I want to edit the book myself and resend it to the publisher to show that their "quality product" is anything but and demand a refund (which I know I will never get). When I take the time to look for it, it is usually the same editors who have the same types of mistakes cropping up, and that's just a shame since that means the publishing company (and, by extension, the reader) is paying good money for crappy results.

    1. I agree that editors also need to be thorough and review their work. However, editors tend to work on an assigned schedule, which means they don't have the kind of time to devote to advice such as this.

      I would also caution against holding any errors entirely against the editor who is named in the front matter. Often, it is only the primary editor (usually the content editor) who is named and the copy editors and proofreaders go unnamed.

      Content/developmental editors do not focus so much on formatting and spelling/tense. They will fix those errors when they see them, but their primary focus is the content and helping the author fix major issues related to development (character or plot), inconsistencies, content that might be problematic, etc.

      Copy editors review the manuscript once all those issues have been satisfied to fix any errors that may exist regarding word choice, tense, spelling, formatting, etc. After that, the galley proof is formatting and a final proofreading is done.

      No one person can find all the mistakes, no matter how hard they try, which is why there are (or should be) different stages and different editors for each stage.