Funny enough, almost every day people ask me this question. Writers at all stages, from having an outline idea to a manuscript they’ve revised countless times, grapple with how to know if they’re ready for manuscript editing.
I know, on first blush that seems not very helpful. But when we hash through a few more points, things clear up pretty quickly.
As a developmental editor, I work with writers at all stages of this game. From ones penning a first book, to seasoned pros with many traditionally published books to their credit.
Although I often say my job is to work myself out of a job with every writer, teaching the nuances of the craft as we go so that those skills become internal. Many of my authors still bounce ideas and openings and entire manuscripts by me.
It helps to have professional outside eyes—no matter where you are in the process.
But as you’re sorting through, how do you know if you’re ready for manuscript editing?
֍ First off, if you’re writing nonfiction, especially a how-to book, one dealing with your specific area of expertise, it’s often helpful to bring in a good developmental editor from the start—with your outline. That way, you make sure you’re on the right track from the get-go, and don’t have to nix entire sections, or add what was left as huge holes.
Said editor may not come back in until you’ve finished the manuscript, but you have confidence you’re going the right way.
֍ Often, writers of both fiction and nonfiction come to me when half-way through. They’re not sure they’re on that right track, or have hit a wall, and want guidance for where to go next. This proves quite helpful as well, as we make sure where they started was where they intended to (and not actually 50 pages into what they’ve got).
And, that guidance for where to go proves simply invaluable.
֍ Writers so often want to plunge in when they have a first draft down. Now, we can do that. But I always caution that at that point, you’re much better to have let it sit. Then go back through at least one major revision before hiring an editor. With each pass, the book gets better. And, more to the point, your writing itself gets better.
Revision is the name of this game, and the first draft is often not a draft at all, but the idea for one. So it helps to get the manuscript to the very best place you can get it, before working with an editor.
֍ And a lot of writers come to me after thinking their books were ready, only to query literary agents, with either no response, or perhaps a few personal ones that say they liked this or that, but the book needs editing.
So okay, where does that leave us as per when to dive in? There’s a litmus test for this 🙂
No matter at which stage of the game you find yourself in your writing, the best time to work with a great developmental editor is when you have taken your manuscript to the very best point you can, for now.
We all hit walls with books and stories. Often, we can find a way around, through, over, or under the wall—whatever it takes to get past it. But often, we just don’t see the path.
Twenty-something years ago, when Urban Lit burst on the scene, a writer came to me who’d self-published a novel in the genre. She’d hired a publicist, sold a ton of books, but something kept gnawing at her that the book just wasn’t where she wanted it to be. And she didn’t know how to take it further.
So, she sent it to me. When she got it back, “dripping in red blood,” as she put it, she was both shocked and gratified. She didn’t know what needed to happen, but her gut said something did, and she followed it to me.
She is now one of the top-selling NY Times Urban Lit authors going.
All this to say that you might come to this point with an outline, a first draft, a “finished” work (or as finished as you can get it).
In other words, where you are in the process is not the thing. How you know if you’re ready for manuscript editing comes down to whether you truly feel you’re going the right way, or ready to market, or if in your gut there’s that tiny voice whispering that this may not be right.
That voice, what I refer to as intuition, is rarely (if ever) wrong.
So, in what part of your process have you enlisted an editor?