When writers have their manuscripts professionally edited for the first time, they often experience “The Shock.”
I’m talking about that moment when you open the document, fully prepared to see a few red lines here and there (because, of course, the reason you hired a professional editor in the first place was to find ways to improve a few sentences, catch a misspelled word or two, and clean up some punctuation).
What you didn’t expect was this:
Yikes! What happened?
When an editor returns an edited document to you, the first thing you should do before you open it is TAKE A DEEP BREATH.
Believe it or not, as an editor, I’m as nervous about sending that marked-up document as you are about receiving it. I want you to feel that hiring me to edit your manuscript was one of the wisest decisions you’ve made on your path toward publication.
What I don’t want is for you to open the document, take one look at all the red lines, close the document, and give up—on you or on me as your editor.
I know the shock of seeing an edited manuscript can be especially overwhelming for writers who have never hired a professional editor before. I try to mitigate the shock in several ways in my cover letter; I explain the nuts and bolts so you understand how I use Microsoft Word’s track changes and comments features; I also explain my method for “talking” to you in the text itself. I point out the strengths I find in your manuscript as well as recurring issues you might not be aware of, like a tendency to overuse a phrase or too many dialogue tags. Above all, I try to be encouraging and convey both my respect for your author’s voice and my goal of helping you create the best manuscript possible.
I also write that my suggestions are just that—suggestions—and the ultimate decision about whether or not to accept them belongs to you, the author.
But I know how it can feel when you open that document and see a sea of red. Somehow, you just weren’t expecting to see that many corrections and suggestions. As author Rinelle Grey puts it, “Every time I get an edit back, even a sample one, it hurts.”
Here are some points to remember when you look at a professionally edited manuscript:
- This Is a No-Judgment Zone: When you read through your editor’s comments and look at each change he/she has made, keep in mind that the editor is judging the manuscript, not you. As one author writes, “Editors’ comments are to be taken as constructive feedback, not as an insult. Too many writers get defensive and claim that an editor has it in for them, when that is certainly not the case. . . . A good editor has to be able to justify every change or comment she makes. If an editor puts a comma inside of quotation marks, it may seem like a small, nitpicky change. But there’s a legitimate reason. They’ll gladly explain their reasoning.”
- We’re All in This Together: When I’m working with an author, I’m wearing my team-member hat. My goal is to make your work shine, so every correction I make, every word choice I query, every comment I add have the same goal: to help you polish every sentence to make it the best it can be.
One of the reasons I always offer a no-obligation sample edit to a potential author/client is to take away some of that edited-manuscript shock. In addition to having a way of determining if I’m the right editor for you, a sample edit prepares you just what “editing” means for your manuscript.
Editors who do nothing are great for an author’s ego. But, believe it or not, there are errors in your manuscript—of internal logic, of grammar, and of sense. There always are. Trust me, you don’t want your readers (or reviewers) to point out your mistakes.” (Thanks to Erica Verrillo at Publishing and Other Forms of Insanity for that quote.)
- You Are Now a Stronger Writer: One of the benefits of having your manuscript professionally edited is that you learn a great deal about writing in general and your own writing in particular. It’s sometimes difficult to accept that someone else’s suggestion for structuring a sentence does make for a stronger sentence, but don’t get hung up on “winning.” A good editor is one who doesn’t just follow a set of rules; a good editor puts his or her own ego aside and works with you to strengthen your voice and style. As Erica Verrillo writes:
Don’t slavishly follow every suggestion. Use your judgment. On the other hand, don’t, don’t, don’t tell them to sod-off—even mentally. They may be right. Take a step back from your manuscript, take a deep breath, and then exercise your skill as a writer. Make your manuscript shine as only you can—with their guidance. If the editor is good, the final product will be well worth it.”
As you review your edited manuscript, don’t be afraid to question anything you don’t understand. Wondering why “affect” was changed to “effect”? Confused by the comment “passive voice”? Unsure about deleting that entire paragraph the editor marked as “redundant”? Ask. Ask lots of questions. Be sure you are comfortable with the suggested changes before you accept them, and be sure you understand what the editor is suggesting or querying and why. Your WIP will be a better read for it, and I’ll bet your next manuscript won’t come back with as much red as the first one did.
I’d love to hear about the first time you opened an edited manuscript: were you concerned by all the red lines? Did you expect as many changes? Did you feel the editor respected your voice? And if you’ve been through the process more than once, what advice would you offer a fellow writer who is ready to hire an editor?
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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.