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When it Comes to Editing, Listen to Your Heart

As you proceed through the submission process you’re going to get to the point when editors start suggesting ways you can improve on your book. They might do this through an R&R (revise and resubmit) or they might just do it in the form of a rejection. When this first happens you’re going to want to do anything you can to please the agent. Your thought will be, “if I do this then I’ll definitely have an agent.” It doesn’t work that way.

I imagine you all know how much one change, one deletion or one addition, can be like unraveling the thread on a sweater. One pull and the entire thing comes apart. The same is true of your book. One pull often means changes throughout which is why it’s crucial that you not only agree with the change recommended by an agent, but you see the vision of what it can and will do for your book (read for).

Editing, like reading and writing, is subjective. Just because one editor or agent recommends it doesn’t mean it’s the best thing for your book, it also doesn’t mean it fits the vision for your book. I do this to clients all the time. When something isn’t working I explain why I don’t think it’s working and give suggestions for what might make it better. Sometimes the author loves and takes my suggestions, sometimes she says there is no way that would work with her vision, but she does see where I’m going with it and can make changes to fix the larger problem. It’s just that her changes are different from mine.

When you get suggestions for revisions take them very seriously. If you can see the changes, or suggestions, as part of the larger vision you have for your book, go for it. If nothing that is being said rings true, scrap it. It’s just not going to work unless you see it.

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11 comments

  1. I often come up with the greatest ideas for a book a year after I’ve written it, LOL (months after I’ve finished the third draft, went through critique group and beta readers). Having a professional pair of eyes on it after the stages in the brackets shortens the time considerably, I think. It’s painful to submit a manuscript and then, six months later, you can think of at least three ways it could’ve been better. Luckily God made agents and editors 🙂

  2. The biggest thing I’ve had to learn is not to freak out when I get notes for extensive edits. The first time it happened, it stopped me cold and I had no idea where to begin or what I could actually do w/o losing what I felt was the heart of the story. Learning to sit back and let the “lizard brain” (that’s the part of your brain that works on things in the background without telling you, then suddenly jumps out with a solution) do the work while I catch up on housework, cooking, or pulling weeds in the yard has been the most important lesson in dealing with edits I’ve ever had. Walk away from those extensive notes and see what leaps out at you as most important when you go back to the story.

    That’s the best way for me to approach edits. Essentially walking away from the whole mess (because that’s what edits make me feel like when I first see them–a total failure without any hope of writer redemption) until I suddenly come to the conclusion that it’s not impossible after all. I will say, without any reservation at all, that editing has made every single one of my books better. Sometimes, as the author, I get so hung up on my vision that I miss the bigger picture–that whole ‘can’t see the forest for the trees’ thing. That’s what an editor does–he/she can look at the story and see what’s lacking or what’s been overdone, because they don’t have the author’s internal vision in their minds. They only have the story they see on the page. It’s their job to get you to write the story that you, as the author, see.

  3. This is so timely for me!

    I recently received a rejection from an excellent agent I adore, and she actually took the time to edit my first 4 pages, cutting some words and moving some sentences around. She did it not as an end-all thing, but to show me how it could read. I was very touched that she would go to all that effort for me, and I agreed with several of her editing ideas.

    On the other hand, my editor, who was formerly an executive editor at HarperCollins, told me not to touch the opening at all, that it read great and that she loved it the way it was.

    What da heck?

    The truth of how good or flawed my opening pages are probably lurks somewhere in the middle (as it usually does), but it only proves how subjective this business is. Trusting yourself is horrendously difficult in the face of so much opinion, but let’s face it, it’s all that we, as writers, have–faith in our story and how we tell it. Meanwhile, that quest for literary” perfection” can make ya a little nuts.

    1. S.E. Davison said: “Trusting yourself is horrendously difficult in the face of so much opinion, but let’s face it, it’s all that we, as writers, have–faith in our story and how we tell it. Meanwhile, that quest for literary” perfection” can make ya a little nuts.”

      I merely wanted to explain that the sound of boisterous applause is merely me politely agreeing with you.

  4. Hi Jessica,

    Great post. I am in the process of rewriting so this resonated strongly with me. I was wondering though, does a writer run the risk of being labeled ‘difficult to work with’ if they decline or disagree with an agent/editor? That has been something I’ve worried about. Thanks for taking the time and the posts.

    All the Best,

    Charlie

    1. It depends on how you decline. Do you simply refuse to make the change or do you see an alternative? I think the difference is the author who refuses to see the other point of view, or what the editor is trying to get at. Often I’ve found is the authors might make the change, but in a way different from the editor’s suggestion. That usually works. I will say this, in my experience the author who just refuses to make any change in relation to the editor’s suggestion usually loses. That lack of change will come up again in rejections or reviews.

  5. Great article and great message. I have just completed an edit of my manuscript (have already published four) and it was painful. “If I do this, then I have to . . .” and so on. Took time. All in all, it is cleaner and I’m still not quite finished with it yet. But your article came at a really nice time for me- thank you! Great reminder.

  6. ^^^ All of this to everyone. We’re all in the same boat! ^^^^

    Reading some self-published fiction recently really opened my eyes to what can happen if you aren’t willing to be strongly edited. What you find fascinating and essential to your plot just may, very simply, not be at all. It really takes outside eyes to see this.

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