Monday, November 28, 2016

When is my MS ready to be edited

A popular post from October 2008

By Josi S. Kilpack

I received this question from a fellow writer completing her first novel. Even though I gave an answer different from what she actually asked, I decided to use it for my blog post this week because a lot of people get to the end of their initial writing and are eager to have someone do the editing for them now that they are done. While this is completely understandable and a very important psychological fear (willing to get feedback) there is a right time and a wrong time to have someone else edit your book regardless on whether you get a professional editor or just ask a freind. Hopefully this will clarify a little bit:

Hi Josi,
I've been making pretty good progress. I'm at about 60,000 words, and if I just didn't have to do things like sleep, I could be done on Monday. So as I'm getting nearer to completion, I'm trying to figure out who I can have edit this for me. I wanted a good friend of mine to do it for me, but she's slammed with work right now and can't. She gave me a suggestion, but the other woman is reviewing another book right now and wouldn't be able to get to mine for a while. Do you have any suggestions of who I can ask or where I could look to find someone?

Josi said:
Way to go, that's awesome that you're making such good headway and are ready for another set of eyes to see your baby. Before you look for an editor, however, be sure to go over your complete project yourself, looking for things on your own that need to be clarified, things that are redundant, etc. Getting an editor to read over your book is a BIG deal and they can help you a lot, but if you give them a rough draft their advice won't be as helpful because they won’t be fine tuning, they will be helping with the building process. It’s also very frustrating for an editor to wade through things that should have been caught by you, the author. Especially when you use a friend that is doing you a favor, you don't want to waste their time (which is hours and hours of work if they are good at what they do) by handing them something you know isn't ready or you haven't revised at least once (more than once is even better). Should you send them a rough draft, they may be much more hesitant to offer their help next time. If you use a professional editor, they can do their best work when you have already caught all the little things you can catch, this allows them to do the nitty gritty things you can't see yourself. If you don't look (i.e. revise your completed book) you'll undoubtably end up paying them to point out things you could have seen on your own, often times those are things that will require such substantial changes in the story that their line edit will be irrelevant by the time you make the changes they suggest.
In a nutshell, you need to get it polished and ready to go in your mind before you ask anyone to put their time and experience into it. Good luck and congratulations! Most people never finish their book, you're ahead of the pack!

11 comments:

Heather B. Moore said...

Before I pass on a manuscript to a reader, I'll take a couple of days off from the project to clear my mind. Then I print off my manuscript and read it on hard copy, straight through. I make any changes, then I'll send it to a couple of readers. I like to have at least two or three so that I can get some different viewpoints.

Marcia Mickelson said...

Josi, That's great advice. I might add that before they have anyone read it, they should read the book Self Editing for Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King or a reference book such as that. Those reference books are an invaluable resource and will help spot any problems. Once those intital problems have been taken care of, then pass it on to someone to read.

I think, especially with the first manuscript, writers are so eager to submit it, but it's best to take the time to make sure it's the best even if it means delaying submission by a month or two to read a few books about editing.

Annette Lyon said...

Great post, Josi. So true.

A few additional thoughts: For a writer's first few books, TIME is everything. Take weeks or months if necessary to let the manuscript cool off so you can look at it objectively. You may find plot holes or uncover even better ideas in the time it sits and you're just thinking about it. Then when you're ready to do your own revisions, you'll be able to do it better.

A hard copy is a definite must when you're revising, as are several readers when you get to that point.

Keep in mind that a good editor will take a manuscript to the next level, but if your book isn't polished and already pretty darn good, an edit won't help you much--no editor can take a book up several levels in a single edit. So the more you do before giving it to an editor, the better job the editor can do for you.

I think all the Precision Group editors have probably run into jobs where the writer wasn't quite ready for the edit--and we're saying the same kinds of things, seeing the same problems over and over again, like a broken record. That's a waste of time and money for the writer.

Learn as much as you can, get your book as polished as you know how, and only THEN seek an editor.

Anonymous said...

I especially like hearing "take time off in between."

It is very hard to do when you are moving along "deadline mentality" (I WILL have this finished by the end of October!).

But moving against burnout is hard work, climbing uphill.

Finding time away though needs to be balanced against the forever incomplete WIP. Tough business.

In addition: I promise myself, at the end of this novel and my big editing processes, I will both take some time off and wait at least six months before beginning a new BIG project.

(And, when it comes back from the editor needing my time and attention again, I will be ready for it too.)

storyengineer said...

May I offer an opposing viewpoint? Looking over it yourself is good, but you may not know what you are looking for. I certainly didn't when I finished my first novel in highschool. I knew it could be better, but I didn't know what to do, and nobody would tell me anything other than "it's great."

So my advice is to look for a critique group. There should be one local if you look around your local community college/university/bookstore. You could also use google to find a group who meets locally, or who just chats online. A critique group won't be as intense as a personal editor, but it is great at helping you develop your writing skills until your manuscript is ready for a personal editor like these commenters mentioned. And I found that you don't even need to have your own work critiqued for your writing skills to improve. Just looking at someone else's work critically and hearing other people's critical comments will help you to learn why things don't work and what to look for.

Annette Lyon said...

Absolutely, storyengineer! As far as I'm concerned, a critique group is a must have.

If a writer plans to hire an editor, it should always be AFTER a critique group has gone over it.

I've learned more about writing by attending a critique group than from anything else. Not only from being critiqued, but like you said, doing critiques and also from listening to other people critique one another.

Best advice for any writer: get thee to a critique group!

Josi said...

I absolutely agree, a critique group is priceless. I don't know how I ever wrote without one. And storyengineer is absolutely right about reading other people's work critically giving us better writing skills. It' like tasting ten apple pies and realizing what you like about one and don't like about a nother--you'll be far more experienced the next time you make apple pie. An editor plays a completely different role than a critique group and both are important elements or truly getting your story ready to submit. Thanks for all the great comments, I'm sure they will help this writer a great deal.

melissa c said...

I'm in that place right now. I have finished my book and I have a friend that reads one chapter for me at a time. She highlights in red and then sends it back to me.

We do this on the computer. She just highlights what doesn't make sense or what she thinks doesn't flow.

I take her suggestions and fix things as I go. It's nice and she can do one chapter at a time. She does have time for that. I love that she feels comfortable telling me what she thinks I ought to change too. Her suggestions have been invaluable.

I like having my kids read through it too.

It also gives me a chance to re-read my whole story.

melissa c said...

P.S. I also have two critique groups I go to. One is with my church and one is at our local library. I agree. This is a valuable tool that should not be ignored.

It is a little scary to have others critique your work. It makes you vulerable but it's way better than being rejected over and over and not knowing why.

When I first finished my book, I knew something was missing but I didn't know how or what to change. Other people quickly point those things out. I have LOVED having people edit my work.

Anonymous said...

I find that I need to keep my manuscript close and finish my own first several editings of it before I bring it to a critique group.

I still attend the group, but not with the WIP until it passes that point.

It is especially vulnerable in the state of forming, and when I can see my own "areas in need of polishing."

After that, the feedback and further suggestions are very valuable and also the work is formed so it can withstand critiques without falling completely apart.

And, also, not every critique group will be the right fit for a particular WIP. For example, my experimental fiction just doesn't work in my mainstream fiction group, so I take that to a more psychologically adept group that tends to appreciate literary fiction and poetry more so.

On the other hand, some cross critique groups can be very enlightening. I once had the most fun getting and giving feedback in a RW group with a work from a completely different genre.

ali said...

That was excellent advic Josi - I really needed to read that today.

I think I've been slacking off on editing/revising one of my completed books ... I think I just need to pull up my socks and dive right in.

Thanks for the kick in the pants! (I needed that!)