The day had come! It was finally that time in my writing journey where I was thinking about querying my book. There was just one more step before I was officially ready: hiring a professional editor.
I assumed there would be some suggestions, a few critiques that could easily be fixed. But I never figured there would be enough edits to entirely derail my querying plans. Boy, was I wrong.
Is my paper bleeding?
Like most new authors, I completely underestimated the number of edits to expect. When I sent off my book baby off in an email, I was excited. I couldn’t wait to get the ‘few’ edits back, so I could make the changes and quickly send away my query letters out into the world.
What I didn’t expect was all the red. Lots, and lots of red. Lots of deletes, lots of comment bubbles, lots of strikethroughs. I wrote a children’s book. A silly, happy story. But by the end of the edits, it looked like my book had been murdered. That’s not very kid-friendly.
There were comments on every line, questions I hadn’t even thought to ask about my characters, suggestions that could require me to rewrite the whole book, critiques that made my face red and my head want to explode. I thought one of two things must be true: this was either the worst editor I could have picked… or my book was nothing but utter garbage.
Obviously, those are both extremes. Neither one of these statements hold any weight, not that you could have convinced my writer brain otherwise at the time. When the book you worked on for months is picked apart to the bone, you start to get a little defensive.
The ‘cool off’ period
After reaching out to one of my favorite writers and supporters of my writing journey to date (Christine Weimer of Our Galaxy Publishing), I realized I may have overreacted a bit. The number of edits I received was normal. The suggestions were spot on. The questions were necessary for character development. There were scenes in my book that needed more… or less. Even the title (which I had never questioned) was misleading; it made readers think the book was about something it wasn’t.
I realized I had a lot more to think about when it came to the story I wanted to tell, so I put my book aside. It was difficult, but I didn’t look at it or change anything. I wanted to return to my book with fresh eyes, without the influence of defensive/panic monsters in my head.
After a week, I finally took out my manuscript, sat down with a highlighter, and combed through the editor’s critiques. She was right. I had a lot to work on in my book. The concept was cute, but it could be so much more. My book could be better — way better. And the ideas for how I could do that started to flow in.
What I learned
I went into this experience thinking I was open to critiques on my work. What I realized: I wasn’t open to the level of critiques that I got, and that is the feedback I need to get used to if I want to be a published writer.
Everyone is going to have a different experience when it comes to working with an editor, especially depending on what type of book you are writing. For children’s books, it’s a little easier to break apart your character and rearrange scenes than with a novel. But some of the lessons I learned can be applied to any and all genres.
- Don’t let the red scare you. Editors are literally combing through every bit of your book with a different set of eyes. They will tell you what makes sense, what doesn’t, and what is missing from a point of view you can never really jump into. As a writer we see things in our heads that don’t always transmit onto the paper. Editors help us to find the holes.
- Research your editor. My editor was very clear on her website about her critique style. I literally just did not read it before I sought out her services. She advertises herself as a tough, straightforward, no mess-around editor. Well, she was right. If I had read that before I read my edits, I probably would not have been so dramatic. Know what type of critiques you’re looking for before you send your work. What works for one writer may not be helpful for another.
- Cooling off is gold. For me personally, the ‘cool off’ period was necessary. If I had come right back and started working on my book, I would not have had the same flow of ideas I did after waiting. I would have changed less, become more defensive, or possibly just deleted the entire document. Take your time, let it settle. It’s not a race.
- Ask questions. When I went through my edits, there were some comments that I just didn’t get. Ask about them. Don’t assume or ask others to explain it. Ask the editor directly, so you know what was going through their mind when they made the critique. It might surprise you.
- Your reader is not a mind reader. An editor is not going to know what you were thinking when you wrote the book. They are not going to see your characters as you do in your head. In fact… no one is! There were certain parts of my book where I literally thought, Well, isn’t that obvious? No, it’s not. You have to show it.
- Edits are your friend (even if they don’t feel like it). Every step of the editing process should make your story richer, more unique. I could have said Thanks lady, but I like my book how it is, started querying, and called it a day. But I don’t just want a book in my hand – I want the best book I can write. I want it to be a book others talk about, not just another book to add to my shelf.
- You’ll learn what you love. Just because an editor makes a suggestion does not mean you have to take it. Sure, some of the suggestions are made for marketing purposes, ones you should consider to be competitive in your niche. But others may not be as serious, more of a style preference. Working with someone who is looking at every little detail helps you determine what is truly important in your book and what you can go without.
The editing process is slightly daunting. I’m not looking forward to going through it again when my next draft is done, but it’s part of the deal if you want to be a writer. What I will say is when my book is finally finished, and when it’s in my hand for good, I’ll know I did my absolute best to get it there.
About the Writer: Shell Sherwood is a poet, fiction writer, freelancer, and creator of silly children’s stories, who could live on coffee, pastries, and romantic tragedies. She lives in Hudson Valley, NY with her fiancé and three boys, and aspires to own a small writing getaway in every climate. Learn more about Shell and follow her writing journey via her author blog, Instagram, and TikTok.