I wrote my first novel but I’m having a hard time editing it.
Here is a question from a friend that I received by email. I thought her answer would be helpful to your aspiring writers out there. Cheryl* asked:
I wrote my first novel but I’m having a hard time editing it. I mean, I wrote it the way I like it, hehe. I have been through the book several times but trying read and learn how to edit is hard for me. Did you self-edit your first books? I’m thinking about saving up so I can have someone do it for me? What do you think of that. Did you self-edit your first books? How long does it usually take to edit a book? Don’t get me wrong–I don’t mind working hard and doing things myself–I just feel that I will only be messing up and making things sound worse.
These are great questions, Cheryl!
Editing is Hard, Becoming a Professional Writer is Harder
Editing is hard, but really it’s not so much getting one manuscript ready to be published. It’s about understanding the writing world.
To have a manuscript ready for publication means you need to be a writing professional. You need to know the difference between passive and active sentences, you need to know about dialogue, narration, point-of-view, theme, direct thoughts and tons more.
You also need to understand the business side of writing. You need to know about conferences, publishers, professional writers and editors, the CBA and ABA–it’s a ton of stuff. If you want to become a successful published author, it’s just like studying to understand any other business. The difference is that in this business a college degree isn’t necessary. Yes, it does help a lot if you go to college and get a Creative Writing degree. Your professors would probably help you with a lot of these things, but that’s not totally necessary.
There’s a good side to that and a bad side to not needed a degree. The good side is that someone like me (who only has a high school diploma and some college classes) can become a successfully published author with a lot of initiate and hard work. My “launch” into the publishing world was attending local writer’s groups, and then I attended Mt. Hermon Writer’s Conference nearly every year for fourteen years. After that I read magazines and books. Writer’s Digest Magazine is one I highly recommend. They have a website, too, where you can read lots of articles for free. I have larger list of other resources I recommend below.
The bad side to that is that unlike become a doctor or a lawyer or a beautician, there is no one to test you before you go into business. Most people don’t know how much they don’t know about the craft and the publishing world until they get started. I started sending out articles before I read one book on writing articles and it wasn’t too successful. (I got one article published in three years!) After I took a class at Mt. Hermon on article writing, and read some books on it, I started to understand why I wasn’t getting published. The next year I sold over 30 articles, most to national publications.
I can’t just say, “Do these three things” for a novel, or for a children’s book, or articles and they you’ll get published. What you really need to do is start reading a lot of articles, books, and blogs on writing and getting to know everything there is to know about the craft. Put aside your novel for a while. (Or article ideas or children’s book ideas.) Instead, just gain knowledge about being a writer and what is needed in a good novel. Once you start to gain this knowledge, then going back to your manuscript will be much easier. You’ll be able to see things for yourself, instead of me trying to explain things to you.
Just so you know what to expect, I’ve heard it said it takes about 10 years from the time you start writing (and studying fiction) before you have a published novel on the shelf. It was about 9 years for me. Getting articles published, of course, can happen a lot more quickly, but you have to be diligent about reading the books on article writing and following the steps.
So basically it’s not about your one book … it’s about being a knowledgeable writer.
Think of it this way, if you want to get your book published then it needs to be great to get the notice of an acquisitions editor. And when he or she takes it to publishing committee they will be comparing it to other books that they are interested in publishing. Some of those projects may be from new writers like you. Others may be from writers who already have books published.
They’re not only going to just look at how much they like that one book, but they’re going to think long-term. Here are some questions they may ask:
- Who is this person?
- Is she just a one-hit wonder?
- Can she produce another book in a short amount of time?
- Is she knowledgable about the industry?
- Is she going to be easy to work with?
- Can she work at a professional level?
- Can she be interviewed by the press and sound knowledgable?
- Can she represent our company well?”
Publishers are asking these questions because the publishing company will invest $50,000 – $100,000 in your book if they decide to publish it. As a new author you may only get around $5,000 as an advance (which is an advance on your future sales), but they invest in their editors, their marketing, in the cover, in the printing, in the salesmen, in the advertising, etc.
Are you knowledgable enough about writing and the publishing world for someone to put that type of investment into you?
So that’s a REALLY long way to answer your question, but yes, I self-edit all my books. They need to be in GREAT condition when I send them into my publishing house. If they weren’t I wouldn’t get another contract. Once they are at the publishing house there are additional editors who go over my manuscripts, but I have to turn in a great book to start.
I don’t recommend hiring anyone to do your editing for you because you really need to understand it all. I haven’t read your manuscript, but my guess is that in addition to just editing of the sentences and paragraphs there will need to be editing of the chapters, the theme, the conflict, etc. This is common for first novels.
Because I’m a professional writer now (after A TON OF WORK and study) I know a lot of the things I need to do as I write, so there is less time in editing. I know what works and what doesn’t as I write, but after I write a chapter I go over it 4-5 times to make sure it works, sounds great, and is edited to the best of my ability.
After my manuscript is sent in to the publisher I then work with an in-house editor for at least another month. (You don’t need to worry about that part now. All you need to do is get your book as great as it can be.)
Here is a link to my “Tips for New Writers” on my website.
There is a large list of books and blogs and things to do.
Here are a few more resources that I’ll be putting up on my website soon!
Lyn Cote, Strong Women, Brave Stories
A current listing of Christian fiction publishers and submission guidelines and two brochures: one on avoiding publishing scams and one on the three ways to publish: traditional, POD and ebook
Jill Williamson, Helping Young Writers Thrive
There are plenty of websites out there with information to help adult writers, but this one is just for teens.
Susan May Warren
Award-winning novelist teaches on writing and offers editing and critique. Also, offers writer’s retreats.
Randy Ingermanson “the Snowflake Guy”, America’s Mad Professor of Fiction Writing
Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson teaches on the art of writing fiction, getting it published, and helping your publisher market your work.
Nancy Moser, historical and contemporary fiction
On my Writing Tips page I otips on Weaving Characters Together, How Christian Fiction Works, and Inspirational Verses for Writers.
Nancy Moser, historical fiction
Writers and readers of historical fiction will find interesting tidbits discovered during my writing research
Links to resources:
The 11 Secrets of Getting Published
Jennifer @Godstellations.com says
Thank you so much for such a helpful post, and a bit scary. 🙂
I am at the very beginning of the concept of my first book. I feel very strongly God has placed a Bible study on my heart and mind to be written for His glory. I just started a blog to use to meet others and polish my writing style as I write every day.
This post will most assuredly be a great resource.
Tricia Goyer says
Thank you, Jennifer!
Andrea Cox says
Great insight, Tricia. I’m working now on edits on my ms. Most important of them all, this go around for me, is changing all the verbs from present tense to past tense. It isn’t as difficult as I thought it’d be. I’m actually enjoying the process.
What are you working on these days?
Tricia Goyer says
Keep going, Andrea!! I’m starting a new novel tomorrow … are you surprised? 🙂
Fabulous, what a website it is! This website provides useful
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