On Being an Editor by Cassiel Knight

A few months ago, I started working as a freelance editor for two publishing houses, and I couldn’t be happier. I absolutely love being an editor as much as I love being an author. And it has been quite an experience being on the other side of table. I’m not acquiring, but I’ve been sitting in and listening to the acquisitions process and discussions.

Without giving away anything confidential in acquisitions and editing, here are some things I’ve learned that I think writers submitting their manuscripts need to know:

  • Yes, there are options now but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put forth your best effort which means studying, learning and polishing your craft. Publishers are not desperate to take anything that crosses their desk. I’ve seen enough submissions with good story lines rejected because the writing was poor or they didn’t take the time to polish the manuscript.
  • Similar to the above, once you are contracted, you are expected to edit. You will have to edit your manuscript despite how perfect you think it is – it more than likely isn’t. The editor’s role is to help you make your story stronger and better. Don’t be so married to your story that you fight every suggestion. Don’t want to change anything? Then, don’t send it to a publisher. Self-publish it. And while there a readers out there who will, initially, ignore poor writing, at some point, it will come back to haunt you.
  • Publishers will do some promo but it is still up to the author to be available for chats, post on the blog, etc. If the publisher has a blog – use it. If they have a yahoo or other group, be there. If they take the time to set up chats, etc., take the time to participate. Don’t expect the publisher to do everything. You don’t have to do anything for promo but that doesn’t mean you get to the blame the publisher if your story doesn’t sell. It’s a partnership. Work with your publisher.
  • Your characters need to be active. They shouldn’t be starting to, beginning to, deciding to or a form thereof. That’s passive and telling. To quote Yoda – “Do or do not. There is no try.” In this case, substitute begin, start and decide for try. J Can those ever be used? Sure, but most times they shouldn’t.
  • Same thing for ‘He noticed’ or ‘She realized.’ Again, it’s telling. Show the character doing.
  • Start your story when the story starts. How often do we hear that? But, it’s true. Don’t start your story with pages of back-story or exposition or with your characters musing about how much their life sucks. Start at the inciting incident. Everything else can be woven in later. Seriously. I’ve been amazed lately at how many stories start in the wrong place. I thought that had been busted years ago. But, no.
  • Learn other ways to show/tell characters’ actions. In many of the manuscripts I’m editing, I’m constantly have to note a repetition of things like grabbed, pulled, nodded, smiled, walked, grinned, etc. I’ve started a list. It’s long. Study body language. Use a Thesaurus (but see caveat below). Oh, and give www.autocrit.com a try. I used it a lot in the beginning of my career to do a reality check on just what words I repeated and how many times. It’s enlightening.
  • Use a Thesaurus but don’t just pick any word in the list. Even though the word may be a synonym, it still doesn’t mean it’s the right word.  I can’t begin to list how many times I’ve had to mark that the author’s word choice didn’t fit the story. I think they just picked the neatest word without really know what the word meant. Be judicious with your word choices. A favorite Mark Twain quote: “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is a huge matter; largely the difference between lightning and lightening bug.” Post that on your computer.

So, there are probably more. If you find this helpful, I’m happy to post this stuff regularly. Just let me know in the comments!

Oh, and stay tuned next week. Got a great publisher interview – Champagne Book Group.

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Posted on April 12, 2012, in General and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Great post. Freaked me the hell out and I spent a good 30 minutes pouring over my WIP this morning. My ah-ha was that I was already following your advice and my promise to myself is to stop reading “how-to” blogs until I’m done. They freak me out too much!

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  2. Hi all! Thanks for the comments and suggestions for furture posts. I’ll totally work those in as I travel my editorial journey. If you try autocrit.com, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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  3. As always, great tips to write by.

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  4. Wow. Editing for two publishers. Congrats. When do you write? Good tips and definitely things for people to watch in their manuscripts. When I judge for contests I also find these same problems in many manuscripts. The hardest one for most people to rasp is definitely “Show” don’t “Tell” which relates to passive writing as well. I’ve seen amazingly beautiful descriptions, great metaphors, and achingly wonderful word choices…but…the scene is still all telling and no direct action. It’s a hard one.

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  5. Thank you for the great tips, Kim. I’d love to see another post entitled ‘Passive Writing is More Than Passive Sentence Structure.’ People get confused about this all the time.

    Congratulations on your new gigs! I can totally see you as an editor. 🙂 A good one!

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  6. Hey, Kim. Good post. Yes, those repeat words can trip you up. I advise people to take an editing class from Margie Lawson. She’ll get you to go after them. The latest Word version has a nice find window that will track all the uses of a word in an entire document and list them so you can click to them immediately. I have a list of my overused words. I’m slowly eliminating as many as I can. It helps the pace of the story.

    Barb

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  7. I just spend hours going over my manuscript looking for repeat words. It was very enlightening and a tad disconcerting to find a pattern in the way I structure a sentence. Great post and even better advice!

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  8. Enjoyed your post, Kim! You have some great suggestions to improve one’s writing. I have no idea what autocrit.com. Will have to check it out!

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