Thursday, April 07, 2011

Working with Your Editor

Many aspiring writers, myself included, spend months writing a manuscript, then spend many more months editing, polishing, and re-writing. We attend workshops, share with critique partners/groups, and force our significant others to read stories they likely are just as sick of as we are. By the time we’re ready to send our baby into the world, at least in my case, I have half the manuscript memorized from sheer repetition.

I was just curious, for published (fiction) authors working on their second, third, etc book, after any proposals have been sent and accepted; how rough are those first drafts they send to their editor and/or agent? Are the editors/agents involved at a much earlier stage (i.e. editor is reading chapters 1-5 while writer is still pounding out 6-10) or do they wait to send anything until the manuscript is “finished” to the best of their ability?

As with everything else in this business, it depends on how each individual agent and editor work.

The truth, though, is that everything you send your editor or agent should be as polished as possible. Yes, you know you’ll be doing revisions, but that doesn’t mean it should be rough in the first place. Typically, an author will work with her editor/agent to decide the idea. So yes, the editor will approve the idea the author is writing and sometimes make suggestions based on the proposal. At that point, the author writes until the book is done, final, polished, and as clean as possible and then sends the entire manuscript off to the editor.

Remember, editors and agents are looking for “dream authors” in the same way you’re all looking for a “dream agent” or “dream editor,” and no dream author submits what is essentially a rough draft. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it where authors submit books that still have their personal notes in them, things like “insert action scene here,” and are waiting for feedback from the editor. What it looks like is that you’re waiting for the editor to write the book for you because you’re either too lazy or insecure to really write. This means a lot of extra work and back-and-forth with the editor, and it usually means that your numbers better be fabulous for the editor to feel inspired to want to do more books with you.

My suggestion is that anytime you send anything off to your editor and agent, you better feel confident that it’s great and ready to go. The only exception to that is if the editor or agent tells you to send it knowing it’s still rough.



Sally Hepworth said...

Good advice Jessica. And if authors need another set of eyes, they should check out

I was introduced to it recently, and it has been wonderful to get feedback from other writers. My second novel is in my better shape for using this website and I am very glad I didn't send it to my agent before using it. Good luck! Sally

Victoria Hamilton said...

I would never EVER send anything to my agent or editor that was not as close to perfect as I could make it.

That being said... some agents are geniuses at spotting just what it is that's wrong with the book, when you can't put your finger on it! (I'm looking at you, Jessica!!) IOW, sometimes you are 'done', but something is just *wrong*, and in that case someone should see it before your editor, someone whose judgment you trust.

lena said...

I can't imagine sending a rough draft to anyone but my family. I'd be horrible embarrassed for anyone else to see them. In fact, I have a deep fear that when I die, I'll have a rough draft on my computer and someone will discover it.

It's not just for the sake of editors/agents that we should do these things.

lena said...

^^^ and that should say 'horribly embarrassed.' See what I get for sending a first draft?

Unknown said...

That's the truth. I also want to point out that it's the same most times with smaller presses as well. Authors seem to think that a smaller press is desperate and not as strict about MS drafts. It couldn't be farther from the truth.

If anything a smaller press may even be harder because they have more invested. However, it's worth it all in the long run.

Josin L. McQuein said...

I'm curious.

If you have an author whose book you've already sold and they're working on something new, do you ask to see a bit of it before they're done (in case it's not something you click with) or wait until the whole thing is polished?

I would assume that, even in the case of sending you a sample chapter or two the author would still make the pages they sent as good as they could, but it seems like you'd want to know what they were spending their time on so you'd be able to anticipate the potential market for it.

Lucinda Bilya said...

Great tips, Jessica.

I have read that term before, "dream author" and it is understandable that editors want their jobs to be easier. After all, it isn't like they have only one or two authors to work with...right?

One of the main reasons I resist the temptation to travel the easy road (self-publish) is because I want my writing to improve.

Thanks Sally for the link. I am registering for that site now. I submitted it, but it is still pending. That would be a great link for my blog, too.


Marguerite Hall said...

I edit for a small press and I'm often appalled at the quailty of writing. I'm not sure if it's that the small press are getting less submission due to the trend in self-publishing or what. I would be mortified to submit some of the manuscripts I am having to edit. I guess this is what Miss Manners feels like in this day and age where social graces have fallen to the wayside.

Karen Duvall said...

Even a polished manuscript after acceptance will go through copy edits and still need a bit more work. I just finished going through the copy edits from my editor and a funeral is being held for all the darlings that got killed. A few paragraphs were deleted to speed up pacing... Sigh. Words of advice: Write tight! :)

jesse said...

Nice post. Thanks.

stephen matlock said...

We all make mistakes - no manuscript over a certain length (10 or so words) is going to be letter-perfect, I'd guess.

So you should send your best work. You should be able to say "I'm fully confident that I could not do better."

And so pack it off and send it -- and then spend weeks going over in your head whether you used "effect" or "affect" correctly; indeed, whether you used "whether" correctly, or weather, or even bellwether.

I kid, I kid. Still, it makes me nervous. After a while I just get sick of all the words, and I think, "Well, at least an editor will be able to straighten this out."

Anonymous said...

My hubby keeps telling me to hire an local editor so I can get another set of eyes on my ms. before I send query agents again. Any thoughts? Personally, as a teacher, the idea makes me think he questions my writing abilities. Although seeing as how I'm still unpublished, maybe he has a point.

dolorah said...

I don't have an agent; or a first published book. Talk about dreaming . .

But I know how I submit to my critique group, and I can't imagine doing less (OMG) for an editor.

When I first started the group, I sent everything. Then I learned some things about writing. Now I refuse to submit to them unless I feel it is "publishable quality". That way, they focus on the characters, plot holes, pov, consistent timeline . . Not on sentence structure, punctuation, spelling.

What I want to hear from my crit group - and eventually from my editor - are things like: I like this section, can you make it more intense; this emotion is all wrong for this character; or even the dreaded "I see what you want me to feel/think/get but its not happening.

My crit group has a couple favorite WIP from me, and sometimes they like: did you write the next scene, can we see it. My answer is usually Nope, not done developing that concept yet . .

The hardest thing for me is to submit while I'm writing something. Unless it's cuz I'm totally stumped and just need a brainstorming session.

This was really helpful Jessica b/c it shows that my crit group is probably preparing me well for the larger world of publishing.

Someday . .


dolorah said...


Mind if I respond? Silly question since I will anyways. You don't have to follow any free advice from another aspiring writer. Just an inexpert opinion . .

Your husband has the right concept with "get another set of eyes" on your ms. I tell you true, I've seen my novel(s) so often I have it memorized. Not what it actually "says" but how it should read if I wrote it as I envisioned it.

Its pretty awesome now (quoting myself and a few special interest friends/family/critiquers), but I've had this feeling about the writing through every stage of writing/editing/revising.

So you're pretty much were I was about 2 years ago. I know some freelance editors - through the blogs - and I think they're awesome people. But before you lay out the bucks, maybe you should check out your area for local writer's or critique groups. If you can't fine a face to face group, then start right here in making "friends".

Check out Jessica's followers - click on the pictures - and the people who comment.

See what you can learn from them. Post comments, ask questions. Find people who write in your genre and if you respect their writing enough, and get to feeling comfortable in your interactions, maybe you can do a critique exchange. Or find some resources for sites that are dedicated to the art of critique exchanges.

For free.

I'm a fan of free :) I'm also a fan of writer/bloggers. A great group of people who usually can't wait to share thieir insights, resources, and experiences - both failures and successes - and help a new writer along.

You've definitely come to the right starting place. An agent blog (Jessica being one of my fav's) will benefit you even if you go no further in the blogger experience.

You can click on my name an it will take you to my profile, and my blog. Unfortunately, I don't allow anonymous comments, but you can e-mail me (reference this post in the subject so I don't delete it as spam) and I'll send you a list of critique resources. Most of the links are posted on my blog, and on a lot of other blogs.

Good luck with your writing adventures Anon, however far you go.


Jacklyn Cornwell said...

I don't even show first or rough drafts to my critique partners or my editor. I need to be further along than that because everything could change.

Kate Douglas said...

Chiming in late here, but my editor doesn't see a manuscript until I think it's perfect. My agent rarely sees it at all, at least not after the series has sold. The only ones who do see my work before it goes to my editor are my beta readers, who go through and look for typos, plot issues or other inconsistencies. I wouldn't think of sending my editor anything less than as polished as I can make it.

Kate Douglas said...

Chiming in late here, but my editor doesn't see a manuscript until I think it's perfect. My agent rarely sees it at all, at least not after the series has sold. The only ones who do see my work before it goes to my editor are my beta readers, who go through and look for typos, plot issues or other inconsistencies. I wouldn't think of sending my editor anything less than as polished as I can make it.