Your Book Needs Editing

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Jul 21 2011

I will reject any query that tells me your book needs editing and I suspect most agents will agree that this is a red flag. But why? Don’t all books need editing? Why is this a red flag?

For me this shows that you’re not ready to query and that your book isn’t complete; that you’re not sending me a query because you feel your book is ready for editors and readers to see, but because you’ve done all you can, hit a wall, and want someone else to help you fix the problems. That’s not an agent’s job; in fact, it’s not an editor’s job.

Sure, every book needs editing and an author needs to be willing to edit, but an agent’s job or editor’s job is to help you reach deeper than you’ve ever reached before to find ways to take what’s already a great book and make it phenomenal. When submitting to an agent you need to look at it, sit back in your chair, and say, “Yes, edits are done. It’s ready.” Not, “Well, it still needs work, but I’ll query anyway.”


24 responses to “Your Book Needs Editing”

  1. Avatar wry wryter says:

    Okay, I may be wrong here but I believe there is editing and then there is editing.
    To me, rewrites are the serious stuff, shift, move, add, delete, that’s the stuff that makes a novel a novel. When the book is done as in, DONE, I still find a comma here or there or a quotation mark facing the wrong way and I must edit it; little stuff like every few pages or so.
    I read where some authors continue to edit at readings because to them the job is never done.
    To me, to query is to be done. I am not perfect. Is anybody?

  2. Avatar Phil Hall says:

    Have you ever run into the opposite position, where the author has it all cut down to the tight package, edited to the final degree, and you had to ask them "please put some back in"?

    Or in other words: has anyone ever over-edited their work–and how do you know it–and how do you go about re-integration?

  3. Avatar wry wryter says:

    Hey, off subject.
    The dog in the picture. His name is Harley. His 'true'story is the prologue in my latest book. I just took him to the vet for surgery, Cancer. Pray for him will ya please !
    Thanks guys. Writers are the best.
    Off to work. I won't be getting much work done today.

  4. Avatar ryan field says:

    I can't help thinking how this post reminds me of submissions have changed. In the days of submitting in hard copy, which wasn't that long ago either, it was very different. We wrote and rewrote on a typewriter and edited with a red pen. Then rewrote it again, again, and again. The ms had to be edited and as clean and as perfect as it could be before submission otherwise no one would even consider it. I won't even get into photocopies and the cost of postage.

  5. Thank you for the wisdom, Jessica. Is it OK to acknowledge that, though I've been over it and over it and over it again, and then revised it cover to cover, and then paid a couple thousand dollars for a professional editor to go over it yet again, I know it's not perfect and am more than willing to listen to an agent's suggestions? Is there a decent way to put that? Clearly, the language I use would need to be cleaned up a bit, but that's kind of where I'm headed pretty soon once I get my red-ink-soaked manuscript back from the editor. As a guy who thought my writing was pretty dang good once upon a time, I must confess that it's an emotional roller coaster.

  6. Avatar David Klein says:

    Writers must recognize that hitting the wall is not the same as being done with edits. If you hit the wall, you need help, and if you already have an agent or editor, they may be able to help you. Otherwise, turn to your writer's group, favorite readers, freelance editor, etc.

  7. This post brings to mind what bothers me most about self-publishing.

    I thought my ms was ready a year ago, but decided to attend my first writers conference before starting in on the query process. Best decision I could have made. I learned so much that now, a year later, the novel is in final revisions (just in time for another conference), and it is much improved over the former final draft.

    When I browse through self-published works, it's almost like the writer ran spell check and tossed it out to choke up the pipeline. Yes, I know there are exceptions and yes, I know there are authors who have exceeded expectations and made a nice profit, but I think this post applies not only to those seeking representation, but also to those who are looking to go it alone!

    Edit, people, edit until your pages no longer look like you spilled blood on them. Then have someone smarter than you read it and edit some more. Maybe, just maybe, you'll get to the final final draft.

    Thanks for the post, Jessica! It reminds me that all the time spent revising is well worth it!

  8. Avatar Lucy says:

    @ wry

    On it, hon. I know it's no fun there.

  9. Avatar Lucy says:

    @ Phil Hall

    Actually, I'd wondered about that myself. Unfortunately, I suspect it's a wishful delusion suffered by those of us who can't really bring ourselves to believe the book is entirely complete without its fifty-fourth subplot.


  10. Yes! This!

    I recently received an e-mail from a potential client saying something along the lines of "thanks, I think you're great, but I hear publishers have editors too, so I think I'll just query and see if I can get them to do it instead of paying for it now."

    Uh, good luck? Also, no!

  11. I think there's a misconception that all a writer has to do is churn out an amazing story and then magically, people will want to read it and the work is done, in the hands of other people. You need to edit until you can't possibly edit anymore, and then edit some more because nothing will ever be perfect..

  12. Avatar girlseeksplace says:

    At what point can a writer say edits are done enough to submit? I'm in the midst of rewrites and edits and have a long way to go, but do I query after that? Or does it still need editing?

  13. Amen! You are 100% right.

  14. Avatar Sarah says:

    Editing is a never-ending cycle. Once you finish a round of edits, it's time for another. It reminds me of a documentary I saw on painting the Golden Gate. It takes them about 9 years to do it, by the time they finish, it's time to start again. So they are perpetually painting, just like writers are perpetually editing. I am curious to know what your take is on Phil's question, whether there is such a thing as too much editing. Thanks for the insight Jessica.

  15. Avatar Cara M says:

    Oh, the difference between rough and done and tight and done, and even then you still need to let someone else see it to check that you aren't just fooling yourself into thinking it's any good.

    After querying on my first project for a couple months I started to wonder if I was only querying because I had used up all my second readers on the six or so drafts of it. It was a depressing thought. Still rather depressed about it. New project time!

  16. Avatar Anonymous says:

    If it's not an editor's job, or an agent's job to help with edits and I've done all I can do, I'm just supposed to throw in the towel on something I've put a year of my life into?….I'd rather thake my chances.

  17. Avatar Anonymous says:

    It is funny to read a post like this today, because today I finished my book according to my wife.
    But, in reality, my mind was the last past weeks revisiting the book and today I looked at my query and decided to change almost everything to reach, what I call, my perfection.

  18. Avatar planetpooks says:

    @ anonymous

    Take take your chances, but don't announce to the agent that you know it still needs more work.

  19. Avatar G says:

    It took me about 9 months or so to edit, re-edit, and rewrite my latest project. And even when I'm doing a few queries with it, I'm still doing a little bit more editing before sending it out.

    Ain't fun and it ain't easy, but it sure is necessary.

  20. This is in stark contrast to my meager experiences in my tiny corner of the publishing world.

    The bulk of the writers who submitted fiction to us thought their work was perfect — so perfect, that when I sent them edits and changes, they were insulted. I mean, they were simply the best writers in the whole world! Not.

    I would have found it refreshing if someone had an attitude that their work could be better.

  21. Avatar Karen Duvall says:

    I think it's important to distinguish being finished and being "good-enough-to-you" finished. If there's question as to the ms still needing work, do the work. I'm sure Jessica's point is don't expect your agent or editor to do the work you already know is needed. If you truly think the ms is in publishable condition, send it off. Agents and editors know the difference. You'll still need to revise it, but at least you won't have submitted a rough cut version of just good enough.

  22. Avatar Rebecca Kiel says:

    Before querying is a great time to pull in extra sets of eyes. I save my beta readers and my alpha reader until I think I'm done. It saves me from burning bridges by sending out an incomplete project.

  23. Avatar Nicole says:

    This post made a thought pop into my mind.

    Since we all know that it's essentially no longer the editor's job to edit (I understand they do some, but we know we're supposed to be at our best when showing our manuscript), shouldn't they be given a different job title? I mean, same job, just don't call them editors? I think that would help dispel a lot of the confusion that new writers get when they hear editors don't edit.

  24. Avatar jfaust says:


    This belief that editors don't edit kills me and insults me (even though I haven't been an editor for years). I'm not sure what kind of experience you've had, and I know that there are authors out there with editors who don't spend a lot of time editing their work, but for the most part, the editors I work with work hard with their authors to edit their books. With such a huge number of available books why would an editor choose one that needs massive, massive rewrites when she has no idea if the author can do it?

    No matter what book an editor buys it's going to get edited.