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Editing for authors: because every writer needs a good editor.

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Set2Stun

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Unfortunately for me, I joined AW after I started submitting my first novel. It wasn't long before I was convinced to stop submitting, but by that time I had already sent it to 9 publishers who accept unsolicited and unagented science fiction manuscripts. I only spent a few weeks editing it by myself, and this work commenced immediately after I had considered it "complete." I didn't let it sit for a second.

My first rejection was a simple form letter from a larger publisher. I just received my second rejection yesterday, from a newer, small publisher. It almost sounds like they might have read it, or at least a chunk of it. Just wondering how I should take it. My initial instinct is to see this as a positive; at least they are telling me to get an editor, rather than take writing classes :)

For context of their specific criticism, it's 83,000 words, and it indeed takes place in two different time periods - the one leading up to the cataclysm, and the other hundreds of years later, tied together by the ancestors of characters in the earlier period as well as long-lived (yeah, yeah, cliché) aliens. The editing suggestions might be form letter-y, but it seems to be good advice to me either way. Here's what they said:


Dear Kevin,


Thank you for your submission of (Title). We're honored that you considered us.


We carefully looked at your submission, and unfortunately, we cannot accept your manuscript at this time. We quite liked your pitch, but the execution of your idea needs more work. Mostly we felt that you submitted your manuscript too early, that it has not yet matured and needs an additional round or two of edits.


Specifically, the readers called out:


- Three sections, set hundreds of years apart with different characters - doesn't mesh into a cohesive story


- Word count low for the epic nature of this novel


We recommend that you work with a professional editor before you submit your manuscript. After working on a project for so long, you turn blind to issues. Happens to everyone. Editors are experienced readers, who can bridge the gap between writer and reader; they can make sure that your vision communicates well. Every writer needs an editor. Seriously.


Finding the right editor is not easy. Start by asking fellow writers for recommendations, because nothing beats a personal referral. Next time you go to a writers' conference, ask the people you meet if they could recommend an editor. Or better yet, talk to the editors who attend or teach workshops at the conference. If you cannot go to a conference in the near future, check out the conference website online and roam through editors’ bios. Another idea is to go to the Acknowledgement Page of a novel you like and see if the writer thanks to his/her independent editor.


The Editorial Freelancers Association (the-efa.org) and Reedsy.com are great sources as well. These websites offer directories of editors based on location, expertise, and editing stage (development, line/substantive, copy). Check it out.


In your search, try to avoid editorial companies who blindly assign editors to a project. You want to know who works on your project and be able to discuss the edits with your editor personally. It is always a good idea to speak to the editor before you hire him/her, just to make sure you feel comfortable with the approach.


Currently, your manuscript needs a developmental edit. So, look for someone specializing in that editorial stage, someone who focuses on science fiction. Look for someone with experience, someone who edits full-time, someone who can provide testimonials from a few current or former clients.


We wish you the best of luck with your author career.


Sincerely,


(Publisher)
 

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This is personalised -- they provide readers' feedback. That's great. They're also making sensible recommendations (and, better, not schilling their own staff or trying to get money out of you).

They're recommending a developmental edit, which meshes with the specific reader comments: they feel the book is flawed at the structural level rather than at the sentence level.

Whoever this publisher is, I'd put them on the Good Guys list for sure!
 

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Nice personalized rejection. Cool!

Personally, not so sure about their suggestion to hire an editor but maybe I'm just getting old and crusty and behind the times :)
 
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Set2Stun

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This is personalised -- they provide readers' feedback. That's great. They're also making sensible recommendations (and, better, not schilling their own staff or trying to get money out of you).

They're recommending a developmental edit, which meshes with the specific reader comments: they feel the book is flawed at the structural level rather than at the sentence level.

Whoever this publisher is, I'd put them on the Good Guys list for sure!
Oh awesome, so it is a "good rejection." :)

Thanks for the clarification on the "developmental edit." I was not exactly sure what they meant by it even after a quick internet search, but you are saying that the plotting, the story structure is what needs a review. I can live with that.

Is it polite to reveal the publisher for personalized rejections? I wouldn't want to commit a faux pas.
 

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I can't see any reason why not. This publisher should be lauded for such a helpful response!
 

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Nice personalized rejection. Cool!

Personally, not so sure about their suggestion to hire an editor but maybe I'm just getting old and crusty and behind the times :)
I expect they go on the assumption that the writer can't progress the work any farther on their own, so if they want to make it publishable they'll need the help of an editor.
 

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I'll trust your judgement. This came from CamCat Books.
I'd not heard of them, but I see they're fairly new.

They do state "We’re looking for polished, edited, and properly formatted manuscripts" so they may not have sufficient editorial staff to manage a lot of books that need work.
 
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I expect they go on the assumption that the writer can't progress the work any farther on their own, so if they want to make it publishable they'll need the help of an editor.
Yeah I get that, but recommending someone hire an editor, which may well cost them thousands of dollars, doesn't sit well with me, and it actually reads to me like that bit is part of their boilerplate rejection. But as I said before, maybe I'm behind the times, and maybe hiring an editor is the new norm for all writers, not just for the majority of those who self-publish. Having done a smidgen of research just now on the publisher I can understand why they'd recommend hiring an editor but I still don't agree with it. :)

Anyway, enough being curmudgeonly. The story feedback you've received is very valuable, Kevin, and you can certainly work with it. I'm sure this is something you've already done plenty of, but my suggestion would be to grab a couple of similarly styled books by authors you enjoy and read them from the POV of craft rather than enjoyment. See how they structure the narrative, the time jumps, etc. Then see if you can apply some of those tricks to your book :)
 

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Yeah I get that, but recommending someone hire an editor, which may well cost them thousands of dollars, doesn't sit well with me, and it actually reads to me like that bit is part of their boilerplate rejection. But as I said before, maybe I'm behind the times, and maybe hiring an editor is the new norm for all writers, not just for the majority of those who self-publish. Having done a smidgen of research just now on the publisher I can understand why they'd recommend hiring an editor but I still don't agree with it. :)

Anyway, enough being curmudgeonly. The story feedback you've received is very valuable, Kevin and you can certainly work with it :)
I expect that yes, it's part of their boilerplate. I generally don't recommend that writers hire editors, but I can see that in a rejection letter it sounds better than advice to "go learn to write more better".
 

Set2Stun

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I'm green of course so I am not sure what is expected or what might seem strange. I kind of assumed publishers had their own editors who worked with their authors.
 

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I expect that yes, it's part of their boilerplate. I generally don't recommend that writers hire editors, but I can see that in a rejection letter it sounds better than advice to "go learn to write more better".
They should be recommending that someone join a place like AW, right? A much better suggestion :D
 
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mccardey

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I'm green of course so I am not sure what is expected or what might seem strange. I kind of assumed publishers had their own editors who worked with their authors.

That's generally how it works - with larger publishers, certainly.

FWIW, I don't agree with Izz and Unimportant about the boilerplate thing - it didn't sound boilerplate to me. I think the readers have liked your work, but seen some (probably plotting) issues that are apparently fixable. I doubt that they'd go to as much trouble as they have, discussing the different types of editing and how to assess editors, as a boilerplate measure.

I think you've had lovely feedback. You should congratulate yourself on obviously having made a really good start on this career.

Don't worry about having sent out too soon - we almost all do that with our first book. Just keep going, remember that it's your book, and make changes and progress in whatever way suits you best.

Good luck and well done!
 
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mccardey

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Mostly we felt that you submitted your manuscript too early, that it has not yet matured and needs an additional round or two of edits.
FWIW, I also think the bolded is very important. They're not only suggesting edits - they feel piece needs to ripen a little first.

(Which means, incidentally, that you're about to embark on what I really consider the loveliest, most engrossing stage of writing a novel. I hope you enjoy it!)
 

Set2Stun

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That's generally how it works - with larger publishers, certainly.

FWIW, I don't agree with Izz and Unimportant about the boilerplate thing - it didn't sound boilerplate to me. I think the readers have liked your work, but seen some (probably plotting) issues that are apparently fixable. I doubt that they'd go to as much trouble as they have, discussing the different types of editing and how to assess editors, as a boilerplate measure.

I think you've had lovely feedback. You should congratulate yourself on obviously having made a really good start on this career.

Don't worry about having sent out too soon - we almost all do that with our first book. Just keep going, remember that it's your book, and make changes and progress in whatever way suits you best.

Good luck and well done!
FWIW, I also think the bolded is very important. They're not only suggesting edits - they feel piece needs to ripen a little first.

(Which means, incidentally, that you're about to embark on what I really consider the loveliest, most engrossing stage of writing a novel. I hope you enjoy it!)
Thank you for the encouraging words - I am committing to seeing this rejection as a positive! Can you be more specific about the ripening? I hope that you are not suggesting that going back to edit again is the loveliest stage of writing a novel :D
 

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Mccardey may have a different definition of it, but to me, letting a novel ripen means to put it aside for a while, work on another project, shove other people's books into your face, and then in a month or two or three, when you're not so invested in it anymore, when you can't quite remember a character's name or a plot point, you pick it up out of the drawer you left it in and reread it, and you have the glorious and traumatizing experience of really reading your book for the first time. You'll see the faults you missed before (because you were too close to the text), discover lack of clarity where you thought it was perfect (because you understood what you meant), plotholes and weak points and all the things you couldn't see before. It's rough because you realize the work that still needs doing, but it's great because it means you've grown, and now you can make your novel even better.
 

Set2Stun

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Mccardey may have a different definition of it, but to me, letting a novel ripen means to put it aside for a while, work on another project, shove other people's books into your face, and then in a month or two or three, when you're not so invested in it anymore, when you can't quite remember a character's name or a plot point, you pick it up out of the drawer you left it in and reread it, and you have the glorious and traumatizing experience of really reading your book for the first time. You'll see the faults you missed before (because you were too close to the text), discover lack of clarity where you thought it was perfect (because you understood what you meant), plotholes and weak points and all the things you couldn't see before. It's rough because you realize the work that still needs doing, but it's great because it means you've grown, and now you can make your novel even better.
Ohh, I get it. I started calling that "letting it sit," which I plan to do for the next 4-6 months or so. "Ripening" does sound much better.
 

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Thank you for the encouraging words - I am committing to seeing this rejection as a positive! Can you be more specific about the ripening? I hope that you are not suggesting that going back to edit again is the loveliest stage of writing a novel :D

Reading closely, they say the book needs developmental edit. Over the last few years, the definitions of different types of editing have wandered a little, and I'm in Australia where our definitions might be slightly different to yours. Here, that would mean there are some issues that lie in the plotting -bits that don't tie up, or are inconsistent. (We have some editors in the Ask an Editor page - you might check with them for a more secure definition of dev. ed.) BUT - your publisher also says the work needs to ripen - to me that suggests you can relax and stretch more into exploring the depth of your characters and relationships - perhaps the setting as well - you can play around with the colours and textures and notes. And then will come edits.

You're not finished yet, but you seem to be at or very close to the end of the hardest part, and ready to bring the music. :)

(And yes, as Maggie says - put it away for a little while first. Let it breath a bit.)
 

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I'm green of course so I am not sure what is expected or what might seem strange. I kind of assumed publishers had their own editors who worked with their authors.
They do, but before they acquire a book they need to feel confident that the author is capable of working with the editor to make the necessary repairs. If the book is substantially flawed and the author is new to them and doesn't have previous experience working with a publisher, it would be a huge risk.
 

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Beware of reading too much into rejections, even personalized ones. This is a very nice rejection, and you should give it the time they gave to you in writing it, but not more. There's never any point in worrying about whether an editor has actually read your MS, for instance. It honestly does not matter.

That said--and I'm about to ignore my own advice and read into it--I'd guess the subtext here is "you're not ready" which indeed does happen to everyone, but it's likely a larger publisher or agent would form reject you; some newer publishers can afford to be nicer because they may have a bit more leeway with their time, at least at first. Or you just got them on a nice, sunny afternoon with a gentle breeze.

Developmental editing vs. beta-reading vs. classes and workshops vs. reading critically vs. just getting better over time is a slightly different debate, and, IMO, no publisher can or should really recommend one over the other. The takeaway is to realize that you need more time and find whichever of the above (and more) works for you and your book. (E.g., lit-fic tends to benefit more from workshops; it's easier to find betas for SF and commercial, etc. But even these are generalizations.)

I think your initial instinct, that you subbed too soon, is the one you should listen to and learn from. For starters, you submitted to publishers, and while there's no particular problem with this, if you're aiming for trade publication it might be better to at least consider an agent, and the good news is you haven't burned any agents yet, or any imprints that only take agented subs, which is most of them. The submission process, too, takes slowing down and learning.

It's likely that you're making, if not basic mistakes of craft and mechanics than the slightly-more-advanced mistakes that mark you as a promising writer, but one who's very, very green. If you're not familiar with it already, Slushkiller offers a good spectrum. It's relatively easy to get into the upper half of it--anyone who has finished a book has at least a decent chance of having written functional paragraphs. The later stages, though--that's what separates "publishable" from not. Getting to that level is a lot harder than just writing a book, so as others have said, it's likely this is where your work begins.

A good start would be to get your 50 posts and post an excerpt in SYW, as people here can and will catch the intermediate/advanced mechanical wobbles. The best way to get to 50 posts--and by far more helpful for learning craft than actually posting your own material--is to critique other excerpts posted there, training your eye to catch mistakes that jar your reading eye out of the story. That way you start training your eye to catch (some) of these in your own work. It takes time, but you have to train yourself to get distance.

I've always suspected that an awful lot of people seek out editing way, way too early. For starters, there's no replacement for learning the above. More, a good editor (and there are absolutely bad editors out there, too, especially among those who will take an unpublished debut MS) will tell you what's wrong, but not how to fix it effectively; a good edit can be and almost always is overwhelming, and if the book really is not quite there, it's just as often the case that the edit can only reveal that a book needs a complete rethink, well beyond what even a developmental editor can realistically provide. It may be the author needs to reconsider why they wrote the book, what the book really is, etc., and no editor can tell you that. You have to learn how to ask those questions of yourself, before subbing, because even once you get the holy grail of a publishing contract, you still have to learn to do this work, except by that point you're under much more pressure and a much tighter deadline.

The easiest mistake to make is to rush. Nothing in publishing moves quickly, least of all authors. Learn to accept that, take your time, and make sure you only ever publish your best work.
 

mccardey

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A good start would be to get your 50 posts and post an excerpt in SYW, as people here can and will catch the intermediate/advanced mechanical wobbles. The best way to get to 50 posts--and by far more helpful for learning craft than actually posting your own material--is to critique other excerpts posted there, training your eye to catch mistakes that jar your reading eye out of the story. That way you start training your eye to catch (some) of these in your own work. It takes time, but you have to train yourself to get distance.
+1
 

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Hiring an editor can be an expensive but very useful way to fix a book to the point of publishable, just as hiring a mechanic can be an expensive but useful way to get a decrepit Land Rover running and roadworthy.

Awesome and utterly logical, if you only have one car or want to publish one book.

Less often does the experience teach the author how to carry out developmental edits sufficiently to do it themselves on subsequent books. ETA but sometimes it does, in which case it can be a very worthwhile investment. Particularly for authors who may aim for a self publishing career.
 
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mccardey

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I used to be against the idea of writers hiring editors, on the basis that publishers provide them - why, yes, I do pre-date self-publishing, how did you guess? - and that a writer should already have that skill, to a pretty large extent. But some people here have mentioned that if you can afford it, it's not a bad idea at all in the early stages of a career, to invest in an excellent editorial read and use that as a learning tool.

Which does make sense.

If you can afford it.
 

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Having jumped the gun on querying my first book as well (albeit I stuck to agents, most of whom auto-rejected on length (although in my case it was too long for YA, at 102k words -- mostly because I didn't learn about the YA-specific genre expectations until I was nearly done writing the thing)... and the resource I used claimed that a few of them accepted YA which they didn't) by doing it before bringing in any critique partners, beta readers, etc, I can relate to the issue.

While in a perfect world, everybody would have the money to throw around on professional editors, you should probably at least try to find a critique partner and make some progress on your own before doing anything drastic. Right now, your manuscript has only ever had our eyes on it. The issues might be things that could be easily flagged by a critique partner.

The one advantage to a professional editors -- as others have noted -- is that you might consider using one if you wind up self-publishing instead. However, the cost of editors could outweigh any potential earnings on the book.

EDIT: When you were submitting to publishers, you were submitting a long-form synopsis, right? Something like that could probably help to flag at least some structural issues
 
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