Welcome to Part Two of the Best Book Ever series!
In Part One of this four-part series, I started walking you through some key elements of the book writing and editing process. First, I demystified manuscript critiques and developmental editing and revealed how to know which one you need and when you need it.
And now, in Part Two, I’m sharing the secret thoughts of book editors.
You see, there’s a lot that a book editor will share with you in the course of working on your manuscript. But there’s also quite a bit that an editor might not say but wishes you knew.
Now, before you start feeling bad, I want you to know that we editors love what we do, and we love our peeps. And we’re super hard-working folks who aren’t afraid of rolling up our sleeves and digging into your manuscript, no matter what shape it’s in when we receive it.
But secretly, we wish you knew certain things about how to write a book well that would help you become a better writer and make our job of improving your manuscript easier, faster—and less expensive for you.
So if you’re brave enough to find out what every editor wishes you knew about writing, fasten your seat belt, and read on.
1. We Wish You’d Work on Your Grammar
You might be thinking it’s the editor’s job to fix up your manuscript and make it perfect, no matter what condition it’s in when you hand it over. But here’s the thing: your editor’s job isn’t to make you a better writer. That’s your job. The editor’s job is to meet you where you are and make reasonable improvements starting from that place.
So that means if you struggle with grammar, and you don’t take the time to run any kind of grammar or spelling checks, and you don’t read your manuscript yourself and attempt a bit of self-editing, you’re creating more work for your editor. And extra work will take up time that they could have spent improving the substance of your book versus the basic mechanics.
And the more time-intensive your project is—because of excessive time spent on things like basic grammar—the higher your editing costs will be. But if you do your best to get your manuscript as clean as you can before you put it into your editor’s hands, you’ll get a better price for the editing project, and things will move along more quickly.
Now, your manuscript doesn’t have to be perfect when you submit it to an editor. But you should, at a minimum, carefully read it yourself and perform at least one round of self-editing to catch glaring errors.
There are simple ways you can start improving your writing immediately, without spending endless hours studying grammar books.
Thanks to the good ole Internet, there are lots of tools that you can start using today that help you catch errors and clarify your writing—instantly. So add those babies to your toolkit today.
2. We Wish You’d Spend More Time Reading
Want to become a better writer? Read.
It’s that simple. Really.
If you don’t spend time reading, you’ll struggle to write well. And believe me when I say that it’s painfully clear to me when someone doesn’t read; it’s reflected in their writing quality.
Reading is one of the best, most tried and true, time-tested ways to master the English language. It’s how you learn to expand your vocabulary; it’s how you learn literary techniques; it’s how you learn the right way to use idioms and figures of speech.
So if you’re a serious writer, you should be spending lots of time reading. Read all things professionally written—books, magazines, newspapers, industry articles and academic journals—just read every day. For every minute you spend writing your stuff, you should spend two minutes reading someone else’s (professionally written) stuff.
To be super clear, blogs, social media, and self-published books don’t count for this level of professional development. No offense to anyone, but those types of informal works aren’t as likely to help you master the English language and build your vocabulary.
Also, in some cases, informal and self-published writing has lots of errors and slang that will frustrate your efforts to beef up your skills.
So stick with the professional stuff.
Make sure the books you’re reading are literary classics or books that have been cleared through major publishing houses because those works have been heavily edited and are more likely to help expand your horizons.
If you feel like you don’t have time to read, then, in my professional opinion, you don’t have time to be a writer.
I know that might sting a little, but that’s how strongly I feel about the importance of reading every day.
If you don’t have a regular reading habit, start today, and watch how much more inspired you’ll feel and how much more easily (and grammatically correct), your writing will flow. And your editor will thank you.
3. We Wish You’d Study Your Genre
Being an author is no different than any other job or career, especially if you want to be at the top of your game. If you want to become great at what you do, you have to spend time honing your craft. You have to get some training.
To become an expert at your craft, you have to study it. Sounds simple, but I see a surprising number of authors who believe their ideas and gifts are enough to carry them through, so they don’t think they need to learn about the genre in which they’re writing.
But what editors want you to know is that if you haven’t spent time learning the intricacies of your genre, your work will be underdeveloped, and that means your book won’t be as strong as it could be. And all of that adds up to more time (and money) spent on trying to make your manuscript better.
So, if you’re writing a children’s book, you need to study how to write children’s books. Learn the elements of a proper story. Become well versed in children’s vocabulary and language usage in each age group and reading level. Study how to develop your characters and plot. Become a master of dialogue that’s engaging for young readers.
If you’re writing a novel, and you don’t understand the difference between “showing and telling,” you’ve got some major work to do. And if you don’t understand proper story structure, you’ll struggle to write a compelling story.
If you’re writing an inspirational or business book, you need to know that it can’t have 400 pages because people don’t read long books in these genres. You also need to understand your audience’s needs and the things that speak to their issues so your words will resonate with them.
I know it’s tough to face the facts about what you don’t know, but the good news is this: there are tons of resources out there to help you.
Find some great books, manuals, tutorials or courses on writing in your genre and just dive in.
Resist the temptation to skip training yourself just because you want to hurry up and publish a book. Quality is key, especially if you want to build a community of engaged readers and repeat buyers.
So don’t worry so much about getting your book done until you’ve educated yourself on how to write for your genre. Once you master the techniques, you’ll be able to write much faster and better than you did before. And again, your editor will thank you.
4. We Wish You’d Ask Your Ideal Audience for Feedback
If your editor is the first person ever to lay eyes on your book, you have a problem. Yes, your editor can give you general feedback on your book’s market viability, but you need to survey the type of people you expect to buy your book.
Create a focus group or beta readers group to review your manuscript before you give it to an editor.
This group should represent your ideal audience, so select them carefully.
You can let them know that your book hasn’t been edited professionally yet, and you’re just requesting feedback about how well the book meets their needs, solves a problem they have, or entertains them in the way you intended.
Essentially, if your beta readers had the opportunity to buy your book (and read it), would they? If the answer is no, you’ve got some work to do before you turn your manuscript over to an editor. Going back to the drawing board and making big changes can be tough, but it’s better to do it sooner rather than later, so you can be sure you’ve got a book that will actually sell.
Okay, so this was a lot, right?! I know it was jam-packed, but I believe you can handle the tough love because you want to be the best writer you can be.
So I encourage you to take the time to build your skills. Dig in and do the hard work of becoming a pro at what you do. All the time you spend investing in yourself will pay off big time in book sales, speaking engagements, and the coveted street cred that makes people know, like, and trust you and your expertise.
by Jennifer Westbrook | JenWestWriting Editing & Marketing Services