Have you ever noticed that some books rocket to stardom, and some languish in obscurity?
Or, perhaps you’ve picked up a book (or any number of books), and while the opening chapters drew you in, at some point, you lost interest and quit it. (Amazon actually keeps track of that, digitally, and the results are somewhat astounding.)
And closer to a writer’s heart, maybe you feel like you’re banging your head against the wall, trying to get your own book published.
Let me guess—querying agents is the part of the process you dread.
Nobody likes rejection. And I hear from new writers every day saying they’ve queried a host of agents and publishers, and have only received rejection letters in response.
Yep, part of the process.
But after that happens is a great time (if you haven’t already) to sift through and figure out what’s gone wrong. Maybe NY really is out to get you. Maybe those gatekeepers won’t give a chance to an unknown. Maybe you don’t know the right people.
We often don’t want to hear this, but maybe, just maybe, the issue is that the book itself isn’t up to publishing standards.
To this writers often lament:
But I used a great copy editor!
Or, my friend who teaches English went over this!
Or, my family loves it, and they read all the time!
Or any variation of the above.
Here’s the thing about all of those: They may indeed read a lot. They may teach English. And copy editors are great—at the very end.
All of these folks may truly know sentence structure and punctuation and spelling and all things syntax.
But such isn’t what makes for a great novel.
So what’s the problem? Your prose may indeed have been corrected for technical issues. But that’s not what makes it sing. That’s not what hones your literary voice
You know that, right? And if your goal is to write that great novel, then you can have a litany of folks go over it for technical edits, and still be in the same place.
But the good news is—we can fix the issues.
And the best news is, the very secret to great fiction, and the one thing you need to know is that while it does take some talent to write fabulous fiction, all you need is a thimbleful of aptitude.
The rest is about skills. And skills can be learned.
What a great novel editor does is not only help you make this book the best it can be, help you get it into publishing shape, but also teaches you those skills, so that you have them in your toolbox forever.
A voracious reader may be able to tell you the plot isn’t working. Or, the characters don’t hold together. But that person can’t tell you why. Or more importantly, how to fix it.
It takes a great book editor to do that—one who can delve deeply into the characters, show you where they’re flat, how to deepen them and specifically where and when.
You already know about story arcs and plot points, right? If not, your editor will teach you about those as well, and about the nuances that go into them, which keep the book moving.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, all great writers work with great editors.
Think that’s not true? Let’s take a deeper look.
Have you noticed that in the acknowledgements of books you’ve loved, the author thanks his editor? He’s far past the need to suck up 🙂 He does this because he means it. Great authors know the value of great editors.
One of my favorite stories is about Harper Lee, when she delivered her first manuscript to her novel editor. When said editor, Tay Hohoff, saw the original manuscript, she was impressed. She said, “The spark of a true writer flashed in every line.”
But Hohoff also said, the manuscript was by no means fit for publication. And over the next few years, she worked with Lee on one draft to the next to take this series of anecdotes and fashion it into a fully conceived novel. Which became To Kill a Mockingbird.
You got that right? Over the next few years.
When Go Set a Watchman came out two years ago, I like everyone else jumped to read it. And my esteem for Hohoff knew no bounds. To pull Mockingbird from Watchman took oh-so-much skill.
And that’s what a real editor does. She works with you, with your book, to dig out the essence, the gems. To streamline the story, leaving in what truly matters, and letting the rest fall away. To form the characters into complex human beings, with every single thought, action, mastery of skill tying firmly into a plot.
Your English prof, while knowing it when he sees it, can’t do that.
Only a great editor can.
So choose yours with care. Whomever you work with will have an enormous impact on your career, and we want that to be positive!
Let’s take your writing to somewhere awesome. What could be better?