Congratulations! You’ve finished your book manuscript! My green plaid newsie cap goes off to you. I know firsthand how difficult it is to persevere through all the stages of writing and finally complete a manuscript. It’s an accomplishment worth celebrating.
Now it’s time for the key question. What’s next?
Publication? Fame and fortune? A beautiful hardcover copy to occupy the place of honor on your bookshelf? Maybe not. At least, not yet. It’s tempting to think our book babies are perfect just the way they are, isn’t it? Or maybe we take the high road and agree that it’s not perfect, while secretly hoping everyone will love it and think it’s just as amazing as we do. Perhaps you’re on the other side of the coin and despair of ever turning the tangle mess that is your manuscript into a clear, cohesive and emotive story.
Regardless of where you’re at in your writing journey or how you feel about your book baby, one thing almost every publisher and experienced writer will agree on is that every author needs an editor. Not just a friend or critique group to read it over and get feedback (though that’s important and has its place). An experienced professional editor who is familiar with your genre and can help you shape your story into becoming the best that it can be.
A good editor is invaluable, but is also an investment. Nobody wants to waste time and money. So, how do you know if you (and your book baby) are ready for an edit?
1. You’ve completed your manuscript. This may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how often I’ve had authors submit to me manuscripts that are incomplete or have a drastically lower word count than required by their type or genre. As a general rule, publishers prefer a novel manuscript that is between 80,000 and 100,000 words. Some genres allow for a bit less (historical fiction, romcom) or more (high fantasy). A novella is a complete story between 20,000 and 50,000 words. Research your genres for recommended word count.
2. You have a solid novel structure. Good stories work because they are built on plot structures tested by time. Is there a villain? Is there a hero with a problem or obstacle to overcome? These key components are the first thing an editor will be looking for in your manuscript. Save both yourself and your editor some trouble and fix them now! Check out my blog posts on novel structure to self-diagnose problems in your story.
3. You have self-edited your manuscript. No author, no matter how talented or experienced, can catch all the errors and problems in their manuscript. But you want to present yourself as a professional, so take the extra time to go over your manuscript thoroughly and correct all obvious errors in grammar, punctuation, and formatting. Be aware of “telling” and passive voice, and eliminate any wordiness. The cleaner and clearer your copy, the easier it is for your editor to move past the writing basics and really draw out the meat and nuance of your story and characters.
4. You’ve had your manuscript critiqued by other writers. Great critique partners are absolutely invaluable and notoriously hard to find, the more experienced the better. Discover the weaknesses in your story and practice receiving constructive criticism gracefully by getting involved with a writer’s group and connecting with beta readers. A first content edit is tough for anyone, but especially for young or first-time authors. Learning how to process a critique of your manuscript and get excited for how you can improve your work is key to long-term success as a writer.
5. You’ve familiarized yourself with the editing process. And it is a process. Depending on the author’s experience level, the first stage of edits is a comprehensive critique or content edit. A critique focuses on the big picture of your story, does not include corrections in the manuscript, and is accompanied by 1-2 pages of notes from your editor (Note: Not all editors offer this option).
An in-depth content edit also focuses on the big picture story and characters arcs and your novel structure, but it includes specific notes in the manuscript on show vs. tell issues, point-of-view slips, pacing, and other over-arching issues. It is not what most people think of as an edit, which is usually a combination of a line edit (wording, grammar, dialogue format) and proofreading (typos, spelling, punctuation errors).
After a content edit, a writer will make the requested revisions and send the manuscript back to the editor for a line edit. After the author has made the changes requested in the line edit, it is sent back to the editor (or to another editor who specializes in proofreading) for a final polish.
For more detailed explanation of the different types of edits and the editing process and to find out typical pricing for each type of edit, see my editing services page.
It’s easy to think that completing a manuscript is the hard part of the publishing process. And for some people, that might be the case. But it’s certainly not the end of the journey! Once you’ve taken your story as far as you can go on your own, it’s time to enlist other people to come alongside you and help your story become the best it can be.