Sunday, June 20, 2010

Professional Editing Before Submission a MUST


I had a good question asking about professional editing from a delightful British subscriber to the monthly Moonlight Mesa Newsletter . His thinking on the subject mirrors the thinking of most authors: i.e. Doesn't the publisher take care of the editing?


Publishing houses, traditional ones anyway, do use the services of an editor...usually someone on staff. I subcontract our editing to Paula Silici at However, realize that most of the major houses will NOT accept unagented manuscripts. This is to weed out the millions of queries and poorly written/edited manuscripts they receive. So, think of an agent as not only someone who's going to shop your book around, but also as one who seriously screens your work.

It costs a publisher time and money for a thorough editing of a manuscript. Think about it: if I have two manuscripts, and one is near perfect and the other one is filled with passive voice, point of view shifts, unclear pronoun references, etc., it's pretty obvious which one I'll choose, even though the poorly written one may have terrific potential. But as a publisher, or acquisitions editor, I probably won't give the mistake-riddled one more than a cursory glance.


I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but no one writes a perfect manuscript. No one. An author will spend years writing a book, but will balk at investing his/her own MONEY in it for editing, unless it's to pay some fly-by-night vanity press beaucoup bucks to see it in print, mistakes and all. Odd, don't you think? Wouldn't you want to put your book forward in its best possible light?

I know one very successful, small publishing house that returns manuscripts to authors and tells them to get the manuscripts PROFESSIONALLY EDITED and then resubmit. If authors argue, the publishing folks just say, "Fine. Find another publisher."


For pete sake! Don't think because your mother, wife, girlfriend, husband, etc. reads the book that it is being edited. Proofreading and looking for spelling errors, punctuation errors, even word choice, unclear pronoun reference, and grammar usage, is NOT editing. True editing goes far, far beyond a cursory reading.

While editing includes those things, it also is incredibly more involved. Point of view shifts, passive voice, characterization, plot contradictions, etc. etc. are just a few examples of items that an editor will look for. Many editors also do a significant amount of data/fact checking, historical research if your book is historical, checking language usage/vernacular for the time period you may be writing in (if the novel is fiction). A good editor is worth her/his weight in gold. If you find one, treasure him/her!!


Some people claim to be editors. They aren't. They're glorified proofreaders. Don't just hire the first editor you find. I recommend submitting a short story, or a few pages from a short story to several editors and see what they do with it. Shopping for an editor should be serious business. An editor can make or break your book!! A good editing job can make the difference whether your manuscript gets round-filed or read.

Editors' fees vary greatly. Some are unspeakably expensive, which is probably one reason why writers hesitate to use an editor. Some charge by the word (that annoys me) and some charge by the page. Rates range from $2 a page, which is quite a bargain, and up. The fee is often based on how much time the editor must spend making corrections.

Must you adopt every change suggested? Not necessarily, but if you're going to ignore them all or argue about every suggested change, don't bother spending your money. That's why it's vital that you find someone you can work with and whose corrections not only make sense, but greatly improve your work.

On Jere D. James' first novel, Saving Tom Black, there were SO MANY corrections, he wondered if he should put the editor's name with his own as author!! Why did I accept his manuscript? I LOVED the story. And, to be honest, I was desperately in need of a Western book to print. Nowadays, I assure you, I'm not desperate.


OMG. Don't get me started! Do writing groups help? For many people they are very, very helpful. They provide camaraderie, feedback, support, etc. However, please remember that the majority of the time the people in a writing group are not PROFESSIONAL EDITORS. They may or may not give good advice and feedback. In trying to be supportive they probably won't say many negative things or closely scrutinize your work. Just because your mom, your writing group, your friends think your book is terrific, doesn't mean it is. I'm sorry.

I don't want to sound like a grump on this. Maybe I am a grump. I just think writers do themselves a terrible disservice by not taking a few extra steps to insure that their work is as good as it can possibly be. It's a competitive market out there. Sure, you can self-publish and have a book in print overnight. Unfortunately, because of the poor editorial work in most self-published books, self-publishing has gotten a bad reputation. Even if you can't find an agent or a traditional publisher and do self-publish, at least put a quality book out there! There's no excuse not to.


  1. The new blog colors are terrific, and the advice isn't bad either. Thanks for clearing that up.

  2. Oscar, thanks for your compliments. Once I did the new design color, I couldn't figure out how to get it back to the plain one. Now maybe I won't worry about it.

    Editing is a huge issue, at least for me. I've actually had writers argue with me about it. Like my fellow publishing associate, anymore I just tell people to find another publisher. I feel bad about it, but not that bad.