gets a bad rap. Novice writers tend to think of it as a necessary evil
best handled quickly and forgotten; a minor chore on par with, say,
a label on a submissions envelope.
Experienced writers, meanwhile, know that the reverse
is true. They understand that editing is perhaps the most crucial aspect
of any manuscript's preparation.
Editing means polishing. Editing means cutting—or even
hacking—away at the dead words thereby giving the writing a chance to
"breathe" and flow.
If writing a book is rough cutting a block of text, then
editing is the sculpting of that block.
It's not an exact science. Ten professional editors may
approach the same project in ten ways. Or may not approach it at all
if they feel it's unsuited to their peculiar talents.
There is no such thing as a perfectly edited book or document.
There are only documents and books that are edited in ways that suits
a certain requirement at a certain time.
A well-edited manuscript (within a given set of criteria)
might sell. Or might not sell. There are no guarantees in the literary
or journalism world, except the guarantee of rejection at one time or
All that a well-edited manuscript can offer is a better
chance of being taken seriously and being accepted—while a poorly edited
manuscript, no matter how good it might be, faces a high probability
of instant rejection.
Can I self edit?
Of course. You can and should. In fact, I wouldn't
want to look at a document or manuscript that hasn't, to a greater or
lesser degree, faced the editing pen.
Where I come in is when a manuscript has faced repeated
rejection; or when a writer knows that there's something wrong but can't
fix it; or when a manuscript has been accepted subject to editorial
revision; or when a writer needs a little fresh impetus.
That happens commonly enough, usually because a writer
has been working on a project for so long that he or she has lost focus.
Or feels they have.
With modern word processors, many authors edit line-by-line
as they write. But the act of constantly erasing words, or ideas, or
characters, or plots, can lead to "blind" spots. Or "dull" spots.
This happens constantly with my own projects. I line-edit
as I write, constantly making small alterations—each of which leaves
an imprint in my mind. At the end of 100,000 words, I'm carrying more
than twice that amount of literary baggage.
The writing no longer feels fresh. I see words, but not
the feelings and impressions that lie behind the words.
Usually a break of a few weeks, or months, is sufficient
to erase all the imprints. Then I re-edit. If I can't manage it myself,
I hand it over to the girlfriend who has a knack of spotting things
So to conclude, self-edit as much as possible, and get the hired
guns (or girlfriend) in later.
If you edit my manuscript, will you alter my voice?
I sincerely hope so. Most professional editors will
tell you otherwise; that they'll preserve your unique style. But that's
unrealistic. Everything that's done to your writing will change it,
hopefully for the better. But don't count on it. The trick is to take
the best aspects of your voice and cut the worst. Just watch for an
editor who puts his overly distinct stamp on your work. To preclude
this, maintain good communications throughout and explain exactly how
you want your project to be handled.
For instance, do you want to sound fast? Hard? Clipped?
Smooth? Earthy? Sophisticated?
And don't feel that you have to have one voice and stick
to it throughout your writing career. You can change. Grow. Adapt. You
And with fiction projects, what about your other voices
within the story? You may be fine handling the upper classes of your
1930 crime caper, but how are your gangsters? Your butlers? Your ordinary
man in the street?
A good professional editor will help you avoid characters
that sound as if they came from the same cardboard character box and
will help bring individuality to your players and help make them distinct.
Put simply, if you approach an editor for help, you're
asking for change. So expect it and make the most of it.
Fortunately, there's cross-pollination at work here too.
Each time an editor takes on a new project, he expands his "palette"
of voices. That's an editors skill. Or ought to be if he or she is any
When you edit my manuscript, can you guarantee my ideas won't be
No. The fact is, all writers borrow or steal ideas
from other writers, and no editor can guarantee anything. That's the
hard truth. You're never going to get total protection from a
professional editing service—just as an established published writer
can never totally protect his or her body of work.
Writers routinely hijack character types. They change
names. They change locations. They copy techniques and habits. They
borrow nuances. I certainly do.
That's living, breathing writing at work.
And that's why there are thousands of detective duos
out there solving any number of complex murder mysteries. There are
thousands of spies tackling thousands of villains bent of world domination.
There are thousands of FBI agents tackling serial killers. Thousands
of soldiers fighting thousands of battles. While a million overheated
romances blossom in the pages of a million bodice rippers.
Put simply, the plots have pretty much all been done,
one way or another. The twists and turns are generally old hat. The
best you can do is put your own stamp on an idea based on your personal
(and largely unique) experiences.
What this means is that editors generally don't need
to steal your ideas when there are thousands of successful formulas
in the bookshops of any High Street.
But yes, it can happen. You could have a professional
book editor steal your idea. He could perhaps read your manuscript and
pass it onto a friend, just as you could have a solicitor or accountant
But these things are rare.
Serial killer tales, FBI novels and Vatican mysteries
For myself, I've yet to see a manuscript that I think
is a sure-fire winner. J K Rowling was rejected dozens of times. Dan
Brown was rejected. John Grisham was rejected. Joseph Heller was rejected.
It simply isn't that obvious what sells and what doesn't. And literary
agents with a reputation for “sniffing out a best seller” are often
merely selling successfully, and what they sell is commonly a question
of personal fancy.
I thought my own novels were pretty good and spent
years working on them. But you can't always get the rest of the trade
to ride on your peculiar hobby horse.
It’s partly a lottery.
So if you mean will I take your manuscript and stick
my name on it and send it out to my favourite agents, then probably
not. But you'll have to take that on trust. You'll have to talk to me
and sound me out or get together for a face-to-face chat and see if
I'm a friend or a fraud.
The truth is that I'm too busy trying to sell my own
novels to spend time ripping off other projects. Also, I'm in the habit
of writing what I want to write, rather than what the market really
wants. That's probably not the fastest way to get that big publishing
deal. But does the world really need another FBI serial-killer novel?
Or another tale about the mysterious intrigues of the Vatican? Or the
Well, it might. But it probably won't be me who writes
it. I just don't work that way.
Protecting your copyright
If you want to give some protection to your manuscript,
there are a variety of things people do to at least preserve the illusion
that their work is secure. Such as mailing copies of their book to themselves
and not opening the envelope. Or getting affidavits signed. Or drafting
elaborate contracts. Or a hundred other naive mechanisms.
But as I said, it all comes down to trust. And if you
can't build that trust with your editor, don't do it.
However, if you're really desperate for editing help
on your can't-miss best-seller (and are concerned about the security
of your project), you might try having your work looked at chapter by
chapter. That might lead to a less than perfect finished project. But
it might suit.
Or you might have a single chapter edited and use that
as a template to self-improve the rest of your manuscript.
That's not ideal either. But it might get you out of
Or you might offer the editor a small percentage deal
so that he or she wins both ways.
And here's a salient thought. What if an editor is already
working privately on a storyline that closely resembles your own? Or
what if the publishing house you send your book to has a similar project
in the pipeline?
So, at the very least take a tip and check what your
editor is already working on (although he or she will want to preserve
client confidentiality and won't be prepared to give too much away).
But if it sounds too close to your own project, you may want to look
Edit YouTube videos
Meanwhile, here are
some of my You Tube videos that might be of interest to you.
Hope you enjoy them.
Mr Edit. Let's talk about dialogue
Mr Edit. Pitching fiction to a literary
Mr Edit. 5 Minute Fiction Fix.
Mr Edit. Let's talk about tautology.
Preditors & Editors.
Here's where you can check out the credentials of literary agents and
publishers. A must for any writer.
Creative Helps. Helpful
resource for the creative community. Articles, links and tips.
Nick Daws' Writing Blog.
Lots of useful posts on all aspects of writing, both for print and online,
plus a guest post for anyone who wants to make a contribution. Check it