Tuesday, August 28, 2012

On Editing: That's THE WORST Advice I've Ever Heard!

The topic of Editing came up in a recent discussion in a LinkedIn author's group that I belong to. The members discussed their issues with editing, finding editors, and how difficult it is to edit one's work. Somehow this conversation was concluded when some members stated that agents and publishers would help the author edit their work. A person in particular said that as long as you do the best you can, they can't really expect more from you and that Agents and Publishers would help you get your work ready for publication.

Although that sounds like sound advice, it is the WORST advice I've ever heard! The statement is accurate in that you should hand in the best possible work you are capable of producing, and it is true that the publishing house will assign an editor to work with you to get the ms ready, BUT this statement is hugely misleading. Why? because doing your best for most authors may not mean that your work is ready for publishing... and all that it will get you is many rejection letters and waste your time. 

This was my response to the group: 

I'm a literary agent and have seen a truly wide scope of editing skills from the almost perfect Manuscript to things that I can't even read past page 2. I will tell you though that there are many editing services out there and consulting sources such as Literary Powerhouse that will really help you when you feel that you can't trust anyone else with your baby. 

However, I respectfully disagree with comments that editing is no longer needed. If you get a sub par manuscript to an agent, they will decline it and tell you that it is not ready. If you are fortunate enough that an agent will take it on, they may then turn around and tell you that you need to hire an editor to get it ready to be sent out to publishers...*

It is true that when the work gets to an editor they will work with you to edit the work, but this does not mean that they will help you get the manuscript ready. More often than not, this means that they want specific changes that they think will make the book more marketable, and if the MS requires lots of editing they will decline it because it's "too much work"... I'm just relaying this from personal experience and it doesn't mean that this is always the case, but I've been around long enough to know that bad editing is distracting to those of us who read a lot, and often just can't make the time to take something on that isn't ready to be put out there. 

* I would like to Note that forcing clients to hire editors after we take them on is not our policy at the Corvisiero Literary Agency. We do not take on work that needs extensive edits. If we love a concept, but the work isn't ready, we ask for a rewrite. We do not force clients to hire paid editors.

My advice is simple. Yes, do your best always, before anyone sees your work. Then give it to an experienced writer, or professional editor, to clean it up and catch the things that you would just skim over. Lets face it, after you've read your work a million times, your eyes do tend to miss things. Attend conferences and workshops to learn tricks and get professional critiques of your work. You are never too good to continue to hone and improve your skills. After the editor has had a go at it, and you've incorporated all of your learnings into the manuscript, you then give it to a hand full of qualified beta readers to give you unbiased (and free) critiques. These things can be done in any order that works best for you.

Once you've considered all the comments that you were given and made the necessary improvements, then you can say that you've truly done your best with this project, and that it is ready for submission. Doing your best means improving your knowledge and skills, and having professionals and savvy colleagues help you. It does not mean that you write a novel, and look it over, and whala, you're ready to send it in.  It means that you must do anything in your power to get that work to be the best that it can possibly be. 

This will make the difference between a rejection letter and a publishing contract.

Happy editing!


  1. Do agents expect authors to hire a professional editor to revise the manuscript before the agent receives it?

  2. Agents expect to see work that is well put together and ready for publishing. When work is submitted to an agent to be considered for representation, it should be a complete manuscript or proposal without a good arc, well developed characters, no plot wholes, and no SPAG. If this can't be accomplished without the expertise of a professional editor then yes, one should be hired or you will be declined.

    1. Marisa's reply illustrates the need for editing--even when commenting on her own blog.
      "When work is submitted...it should be a complete manuscript or proposal WITHOUT a good arc....no plot WHOLES...."
      Tch, tch. Would a literary agent NOT want a good story arc? I doubt it. And plot wholes? What, exactly, are they?
      Conversely, agents--or assistants, apprentices, and interns--should NOT read a genre with which they are unfamiliar and/or towards which they are not attracted. Other than identifying SPAG that would be obvious to any literate reader, this may lead to ignorant, irrelevant comments, a biased critique, and inappropriate rejection.

  3. Where do you look for a good editor? What questions can you ask an editor to make sure you are a good fit? Is there a website that has a listing of editors by genre that is reputable? I'm almost ready for that step, and I'm nervous about hiring an editor that will not have the credentials or talent I need.

    Thank you.

  4. Wonderful post and advice! There are so many great places on the internet to find solid critique partners that have the same goals as you and these are great options for those who can't afford an editor. Some free-lance editors even do chunks of work at a time for a reduced rate and it can make a drastic difference because like Ms. Corvisiero said, they catch things our eyes are blind to after reading the MS so many times. Following writing blogs such as these is just the first step in a web-world full options :) Happy writing!

  5. In the past, I've hired a buddy of mine (a writer / former HS English teacher / former newspaper editor) to proof some of my work. As a friend, I generally ask him, "How much do you want?" and he asks for a few hundred dollars. Perfectly reasonable.

    On the other hand, I just finished my latest book -- a collection of seven intertwined short stories -- and didn't want to think of how much THAT would cost. So I re-read all 118,000 words. I'm happy to say, I found a few typos here and there, but overall was pleased with the job I had done. Of course, I've been working on this for 3+ years, so there was a lot of backing up and reviewing as I went.

    Still, oi!

  6. I'm shocked that there are still writers (seriously,are they NOT reading anything on the web?) naive enough to think agents can turn bad manuscripts into best sellers.I mean the fairy godmother turned a pumpkin into a coach, but that was magic!

  7. Hi!

    Does Literary Powerhouse charge for the editing service?

  8. Literary Powerhouse offers consulting services for authors, publishers, PR firms, agents etc. It is an independent company with a staff of professionals available for specific tasks as needed. Workshops and Editing services are offered in different forms. You can choose from critique, editing and coaching packages depending on the level of involvement you prefer. www.literarypowerhouse.com Hope this helps!


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    Professional Editing Services