What I Learned from Editing

Dec 04, 2019

In the past few years, I've done an enormous amount of editing. I work as a manuscript consultant and help other writers develop their books, and I've (almost completely) rewritten two novels. Here are some of the things I've learned about the editing process:


1. An editor will "fix" your manuscript. (An editor can help you fix it.)

2. He/she will introduce you to his or her agent. (Editors are incredibly selective about recommending clients to their agents, because their own reputation hangs on the line every time they do so.)

3. Editorial letters aren't worth the extra money. (Those letters are far more valuable than a string of comments on a manuscript. They require the editor to think holistically about the project and articulate not only what isn't working, but offer up constructive ideas about how to improve it.)

4. It shouldn't be so darn expensive! Here's what Jane Friedman has said: "Writers may sincerely seek professional help, but very few are willing to pay for it. You probably will not receive a quality review on your entire manuscript—that will actually affect your chances of publication—for less than $1,000—unless it’s line editing (copyediting, proofreading etc)."


1. Telling rather than showing. There are times when telling is important, but most of the time? Choose action over summary.

2. There isn't a driving question. Not much is actually happening. 

2. Characters are not differentiated enough. Readers need to be reminded frequently of what characters look like--and I don't just mean their hair or eye color.

3. Dialogue is dull or stilted. Read your dialogue aloud. Pick your favorite book and analyze the dialogue. Then take yours and chop it up, give it subtext, make it personal.

4. The themes are not clear or sustained.

5. The end is rushed. Take your time with the denouement. The reader is more interested than you think in how this all ties together. A rushed or incomplete ending can negate the entire reading experience.

I've made these assumptions myself, and my work has exhibited many of these "errors." And I'm not done yet learning how to be a better writer. With patience, relentlessness, flexibilty and imagination, we muddle our way through the drafts until we get there!


Katrins's debut novel The Forgotten Hours is a Washington Post and Amazon Charts Bestseller. Her next novel, This Terrible Beauty, is forthcoming March 2020. If you're interested in more from Katrin, you can sign up for her newsletter at www.katrinschumann.com.

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