You can argue, you can justify, and you can complain all you want, but you can’t escape the truth. Your novel needs professional help! You may be the most talented writer in the world, but at some point someone else has to look at your book and tell you what needs work.
Yep, try as we may, we are not impartial judges of our own writing. How can we be? We know the plot and the characters inside and out. We’ve lived with those people and those situations for months, maybe years. Most importantly, we know the details that we may have forgotten to actually write down, and we will fill in the blanks. But when someone else reads that story, they’ll see blanks.
Honestly, I don’t get it. I’ve heard so many writers out there say that they don’t really need an editor or they can’t afford one. That statement makes absolutely no sense to me. No one, and I mean no one, is that good. Everyone needs an outside opinion in order to see the forest through the trees and to produce the best work possible.
Okay, so how exactly do you work with an editor? How do you handle all that criticism and still find the will to carry on and rewrite what you’ve already poured your heart and soul into … again?
If you’re like me, the first time you sent a novel off into the hands of a professional editor you did it while quaking in your boots. I was so afraid my editor, Alison, would trash it. I was sick for a week thinking that she would tell me my writing was horrible and that I should stick to my day job. It was terrifying.
Guess what? A good editor won’t tear you down. A good editor is there to help build you up. When I got that first edit letter from Alison it restored my faith in my own ability to pen a good story … even though it consisted of 14 pages of things I’d done wrong. A good editor will point out the flaws in your story while making you super excited to get to work on fixing them.
But how? How do you fix what isn’t working?
Well, just like the process of revising your first draft is all about honesty, the process of putting editorial suggestions into action is to listen. Drop all of your preconceived notions about how you are going to be the next bestselling author and really listen to the points your editor is bringing up. Is she telling you that your character’s motivation doesn’t ring true? Is she saying that the story lags in the middle? Listen to that. It’s better to hear it from an editor at this point of the process than it is to see it in a review down the line. Because at this point you can do something about it.
A good editor will come armed with suggestions. My favorite part about working with Alison has been that she comes armed with questions. What if the hero doesn’t show up in time to rescue the heroine? What if that minor character was actually in love with the hero? What if the hero went back to his old life? Those are all actual suggestions Alison made about my various novels.
You know what? She was right. Did it mean rewriting large chunks of my novels? Are you kidding? I rewrote the entire middle section of The Courageous Heart based on a few of Alison’s suggestions! Was it tedious? Yep. Did it make the novel better? A thousand times better!
Working with an editor is a collaborative process. You’re the writer, ultimately you have the final say, but a good editor is an idea machine that you can tap for days. It’s not cheating, it’s not betraying your own creative process, it’s called working with an editor and making changes. And it feels so good when you come up with a better twist than you had before, even if you have to go back and start the revision process again to do it.
But you have to listen. There is no place for ego in working with an editor.
Okay, so I’ve talked all this time about working with an editor, but there is actually an alternative. And I’m a very recent convert to this alternative. I only mention it with the gravest of caveats. Not everyone can settle for this alternative and you personally aren’t the one who can make the call on whether this option alone is right for you.
Let’s talk about beta-readers. Beta-readers are like lovely mini editors. They are the people you give your novel to for an opinion. Yes, in some cases you can rely on beta-readers instead of editors to help you through this phase of revisions. I cringe as I say that, because I just know someone out there is going to assume that they’re off the hook and that they don’t really need to hire a professional.
Some people in certain circumstances will do fine having their novel edited by beta-readers alone. Which people? Those who have worked with an editor before and have proven their skills and been given the okay by a professional. Who should they ask to beta-read their books? Trusted, proven author-friends who know what they’re doing and who are not afraid to point out the broccoli in your teeth. That or friends or family members who are avid readers.
I recently read that Eloisa James has her sister read everything she writes early on (just like I have my sister-in-law/best friend read everything I write). I know of a couple of NYT bestsellers who are buddies and swap manuscripts. I was asked by an awesome writer friend who just landed an agent to beta-read her first novel (and I hope this second one too eventually – hint, hint) and I’m about to give her my latest. Can I put the two of us in the same category as NYT bestsellers? Absolutely! Because we’re both going to hold that title someday, aren’t we.
So embrace the edits, folks! Seek out the opinion of trusted professionals. Foster those relationships and make them last. You want to publish the best book possible, right? It starts with listening to the opinion of those who are in a position to know what the best looks like and to follow their advice. Because once you’ve done everything you can to make your novel the best it can be, it’s time to put it out there in the world.