4 Tips for Surviving Your First Edit: Guest Post by Kristen Otte

When I invited author Kristen Otte to share her experience of working with her editor (that would be me—*waves*), she graciously accepted. I’ve been lucky enough to edit three of Kristen’s books: The Adventures of Zelda: The Second Saga, The Adventures of Zelda: Pug and Peach (coming soon), and The Photograph, which releases today.

As an editor I’m used to being invisible in the final product, but as Kristen writes, I am anything but when a manuscript comes to me for editing and I get my red pen out. Kristen is a dream author from an editor’s point of view: she is receptive to suggestions, thoughtful in her approach to edits, and eager to put what she learns into practice. At this rate, I may be out of a job in another book or two! 😉

Here is Kristen’s take on working with me . . . and a few comments from my side of the table:

It was nerve-wracking when I sent my first manuscript to an editor. I knew my novel was far from perfect, and I needed an editor to clean up the flaws. But it still wasn’t easy to send the manuscript away. It took me over a year to write and revise my first novel. I poured my heart and soul into the project, and the editor was one of the first people to read the entire novel. [ED: I’m a writer, too, and I understand just how difficult it is to send your “baby” out into the world.] The good news is that even though the editing process was nerve-wracking, I survived my first edit. From my experience, I compiled a few tips to help you survive your first edit.

1. The First Chapter Is the Worst. When you open your revised manuscript, be prepared for the red. The red will be present, especially in the first couple chapters. The opening chapters are very important to the success of your novel. Writers need to hook readers from the very beginning (especially in the digital age where readers can sample the first chapter). Your editor is going to spend significant energy making sure your opening is strong, which usually means more red or revisions in the first chapter than the rest of the book. Brace yourself and keep going.

2. Your Editor Isn’t Perfect. Your editor may seem superhuman when it comes to catching missing commas or dangling participles, but he or she is not. (except for Candace, of course). When you go through the edits, a stray typo is bound to appear. It’s okay. Fix it and move on. [ED: Kristen is too kind; I am far from superhuman, and I miss things, too—that’s one of the reasons it’s good to have another set of eyes to proofread before you publish.]

Your editor doesn't claim to be perfect ... but you'll learn a lot about writing from the edits. #amediting #amwriting #editingtip Click To Tweet

3. Your Editor Is a Collaborator. Editors love stories and reading good novels. He or she wants to make your novel great and see you succeed. A good editor has the story’s best interests at heart. He or she is collaborating with you to create a fantastic body of work. As you work through the suggested edits, keep in mind your editor wants you to succeed. One of the reasons I love working with Candace is because she is invested in my success as an author. She goes above and beyond her duty of editing by promoting my books and sending me tips and helpful articles. [ED: I wanted to type YES! after each statement in this paragraph. I think of myself a member of an author’s team, and nothing makes me happier than his or her success!]

4. Learn from Your Editor. I love creating stories, but I am not the best with punctuation, grammar, or sentence structure. I haven’t been in an English classroom in several years. I need an editor to teach me the best way to use an em dash or where to put a comma. When you work with an editor, learn from them. Pay attention to your mistakes, so you don’t make them next time (or not as many of them). Your writing will be better, and it makes your editor’s job easier. [ED: As I wrote above, Kristen is a dream author. The mistakes I edited out of her first book? They were absent in the second; as I wrote, I may be editing myself out of a job here!]

The first edit will be the toughest, but you will be happy you sent it away when your finished product is better than anything you could have created on your own.

[ED: If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy How to Survive “The Shock”: Your First Round of Editing]



Kristen Otte is the author of The Adventures of Zelda series and The Photograph.  Visit her website to learn more about her and her books.

The Photograph, a contemporary young adult novel, releases today!

Kristen Otte on surviving your first editOn a quest for truth, one girl will find more than she bargained for . . .
Sixteen-year-old Rachel Brandt is excited about her six-month anniversary with her boyfriend, Brent, getting her driver’s license, and competing for a district championship in her first season on the varsity basketball team.

But when Rachel stumbles across a photograph of her parents, she can’t shake the feeling that she is meant to find her mother, whose identity is a secret her grandparents have closely guarded. All Rachel knows is that her mother disappeared around the time her father was killed in action in the Gulf War a few months after she was born.

Her discovery of the photograph sends Rachel on a search for her mother against her grandparents’ wishes and propels her life into a tailspin. She never imagines her search will reveal a series of lies that jeopardize every important relationship in her life and ultimately lead Rachel to question her identity.



If you enjoyed reading this, please subscribe to my blog and never miss a post! It’s easy: Just enter your email address on the right side of this page. And please know that I’ll never sell, share, or rent your contact information—that’s a promise!

Candace Johnson is a professional freelance editor, proofreader, writer, ghostwriter, and writing coach who has worked with traditional publishers, self-published authors, and independent book packagers on nonfiction subjects ranging from memoirs to alternative medical treatments to self-help, and on fiction ranging from romance to paranormal. As an editorial specialist, Candace is passionate about offering her clients the opportunity to take their work to the next level. She believes in maintaining an author’s unique voice while helping him or her create and polish every sentence to make it the best it can be. Learn more here.

For more great writing and publishing information, check out Change It Up Editing and Writing Services on Facebook, where I share interesting articles and links about writing and publishing.

13 thoughts on “4 Tips for Surviving Your First Edit: Guest Post by Kristen Otte”

  1. This are very interesting points and great to think about. I am pretty far away from the experience, but now I think I’m a little bit closer! How do first-time writers know when it’s time to find an editor?

    1. That’s a great question! I’m a proponent of utilizing writing critique partners and beta readers before you hire an editor. Good ones will help you flesh out problems with big-picture issues like plot, characters, and pacing, and more detailed issues like passive phrasing, overused words, and punctuation problems. Once you’ve revised and self-edited your manuscript and think it’s the best you can make it, contact several editors and discuss what you think you need (more structural help? a full manuscript evaluation? line editing?), and ask for a sample edit. That sample edit will give the editor(s) an idea of the level of editing you need, and you’ll see how he or she works and whether or not that editor is a good fit for you.

  2. This was a fantastic post, and Kristen’s new release sound right up my alley…a new download for the Kindle today! A lot of these tips seem to focus on grammar edits – wouldn’t an editor also tell an author if there are problems with the story, too? Or is that a different kind of edit? Maybe an earlier stage?

    1. You’re right, Gwen, grammar edits are the focus of this post——and were also the focus of the editing I’ve done for Kristen. While there were a few small issues I brought to Kristen’s attention on my first pass on The Photograph, the story was structurally sound when she sent it to me.

      Some indie authors make the mistake of thinking they “just need a quick proofread” when they haven’t vetted their manuscript through beta readers, writing critique partners, or a manuscript evaluation. The level of editing you’re asking about is developmental or content editing, and those should be done before a line edit or a proofread. If you’re not sure that your work is ready for primetime, a manuscript evaluation is a cost-effective way to get professional feedback on what’s working and what isn’t——and it covers everything from character development and pacing to grammar and punctuation. If there are structural issues, you’ll have the information you need to revise again.

      1. I exchange work regularly with my critique partners, and the intent is to see what’s missing or lacking in the story itself — what are its deficiencies? At the critique partner stage, I’m not too concerned with commas and typos and such, because I typically have bigger issues to worry about, i.e. getting the story right. I’d always thought of grammar edits as a late-stage fix, and you’ve confirmed that for me, Candace.

        It’s bewildering sometimes to see the word “edit” thrown around on the blogosphere. Bloggers I’ve followed, for example, who have just finished a first draft of a manuscript and declare they are on to the editing stage. What I’m thinking is: Shouldn’t revisions come first? So when the word “edit” is used, often carelessly, I’m forced to wonder if they really mean “revise,” or if they are indeed “editing,” and the revision stage of the process is skipped altogether.

      2. Sorry to jump in (not really), but Gwen makes a good point. I see a lot of “I finished my first draft and now I’m editing” talk on WordPress. No; that’s called a second draft. Rewriting, revising, whatever. Editing is done by an editor.

  3. Thanks, Kristen, for sharing your tips and experiences with the editing process.

    Candace, I’m curious. Have you ever sent back a manuscript to a writer because the writing lacked polish and was not ready for editing?

    1. I’ve managed to avoid that by always offering a no-obligation sample edit. If the sample chapters lack polish, and it’s apparent the writer has more work to do, I suggest a manuscript evaluation. The reports I write are filled with details and examples for the author who is interested in revising and polishing before spending money to line edit a manuscript that isn’t ready. In my personal experience, the authors who need more developmental help or content editing usually suspect that, and while they might not know what to ask for, they are happy to find out those levels of editing help are available. I’m sure I’ll eventually have to say “No way” to a project, but the majority of the indie authors who contact me understand the importance of producing a quality product and are eager to learn all they to hone their craft.

  4. I’m getting dangerously close to having my WIP ready to go to an editor. It will be frightening to send my baby to a stranger for the first time. I appreciate the advice.

Leave a Reply