Let me tell you a true story:
An author wrote a book, a nice little tale she’d finally typed “the end” to.
“At last!” she exclaims with tears of joy streaming down her face. “It is finished!”
After so long of writing—such struggles! such heartaches!—she finally feels triumphant. She’s ready to send her masterpiece out to be accepted by her daydream agent, then on to the daydream publisher, so she can make her (trust me on this) daydream millions!
But an epiphany hits her, and she holds her finger in the air. “But first, I must get it edited!”
She sends it out to an editor friend who goes over it for her, then she sends it to an agent, who accepts it and sends it to a publisher, who accepts it.
So what’s wrong with this picture? She did everything right—right?
Well, not quite.
Her publisher’s in-house editor rips the story to shreds, red-lining through pages of finished product.
Because of plot holes, character discrepancies, story lines that went nowhere, a flat plot arc.
Here’s the deal: getting a copy edit or a proofread on a piece that hasn’t been content edited is jumping the line in the editorial process.
And here’s the deal #2: Not everyone who calls themselves an editor knows how to do a content edit.
#2 is the killer, and it’s sad. A writer can publish a book or two and then hang out a shingle to go into business as an editor. Doesn’t really make her one, but . . . well, there ya go. Or a non-writer who’s great at grammar, spelling, and punctuation can do the same. That person could be a good copy editor or proof reader, but this doesn’t qualify her as a content editor.
A good content editor studies all the same books you’re supposed to study in pursuit of making yourself a great writer. Techniques in structure, voice, description, plot, character, setting, dialogue—all the aspects of the craft of writing. A good content editor knows the elements required in your chosen genre; a good freelance content editor knows the inner workings of several genres. A great content editor has years’ experience and many hours of continuing education under her belt.
So, if you’ve finished your manuscript, you need a content edit. That’s the next step whether you’re a newbie who finally typed “the end” for the first time, or a professional, traditionally pubbed, multi-book author who sends her work straight to her in-house editor.
But the person who sent the “edited” manuscript to the publisher skipped that step, then was surprised to the point of indignation that the manuscript returned with blood stains.
Right about now, I bet you’re wondering how she managed to get to a publisher to begin with. Believe me, I’m still scratching my head over that one too. A good freelance editor would’ve noticed the same things the in-house editor did, so I blame the editor. But if the author didn’t do her part to choose the type edit she needed, then she bears responsibility too.
Then, I guess I’d take a gander at the agent. I was an editorial assistant to an agent, and I read and rejected tons of submissions based on things just like this. The number of writers who believe they’re ready for publication is astounding. During my stint as an EA (cut short due to illness), I recommended only a tiny percentage of submissions to the agent—some after the author revised their works based on my suggestions. I have no reason to believe that any other agent works differently, except maybe this one. Did the agent even read the manuscript all the way through? I don’t think I want to know the answer to that. If the agent didn’t read it, that’s one thing, but if so . . .
I admit to wondering about the publisher’s acquisitions editor also. Did that person read it? Or was the author a friend, so her manuscript was blindly accepted based on that friendship? Now, there’s another scary thought.
If you’re reading this and think I’m writing about you, I’m not. This author is a compilation of many authors I’ve heard about over the years. But on the other hand, if you recognize yourself in this, maybe I’m writing to you rather than about you. I hope you get the message.