Editing: What’s it REALLY like?


“Don’t they shred your manuscript?”

“Don’t they squash your art?”

“Does it feel like they’re killing your baby?”



And, no.


But then again, yes.


And, yes.

These are some of the questions I’ve fielded from folks who wonder why I’d ever choose to expose my novel to the grinding, scolding, vampiric editing process which is rumored to be a part of traditional publishing.

Agents, writers and editors themselves blog enough about editing that I had a pretty good idea, once I signed my contract with my publisher, what I … well … signed up for. I tried to push aside the ginormous “F. PLEASE SEE ME,” my first college literature professor scrawled at the top of my first college paper. I battled with night sweats as another creative writing professor who made me weep openly in several classes invaded my dreams. I tried to rest in what I know, intellectually, is an industry process with a pretty good track record of improving manuscripts.

First, my publisher assigned a developmental editor to my manuscript. I submitted it to her, and I waited. Instead of the Word document full of track-and-change bubbles clogging the margins I had assumed I’d receive, she called me.

“Let’s talk,” she said.

We did.

The changes would need to be massive, she kindly explained. In fact, her response to me was more than kind. It was … levelheaded. Matter-of-fact. Even … chipper. Like she doles out this sort of insurmountable assignment to thick-skinned writers like me hourly.

I understand, I replied.

I hung up and drove to Marshall’s, hoping to assuage my catatonic state of panic in a stack of new clothes. Instead, I called my precious agent, wept and wailed as I walked amidst scarves and accessories, and didn’t buy a thing after she talked me off the ledge of “I-can’t-do-this-not-now-not-ever-my-brain-feels-like-it’s-going-to-explode.”

After a week or two of processing the conversation with my editor, I took a deep breath and revisited my manuscript.

The parts she said sucked, did suck.

The parts that didn’t flow, didn’t flow. 

The characters did have more potential.

And so, I dug in. I rewrote at least half of the novel. I added an entire secondary point of view. I chopped and hacked and squashed and shredded.

And you’ll notice, nowhere in this process have I mentioned that my editor did these things.

I did.

My editor simply provided me with the expertise, the empowerment, the brilliance to hone my manuscript. To enhance my art. To raise my baby to the level of maturity it needed to be sale-able.

That thing about it takes a village?

It’s true, you know.

And I am immeasurable grateful. 

After these developmental edits, the manuscript went on to the publishing house, into the hands of a brilliant copy editor, whose job it was to fact check, grammar check, make sure my timeline was spot on and that the dog which suddenly appeared in chapter 28 also existed in chapter 4, and that the farm equipment I had described actually existed in the time period in which my characters lived. This was followed by uncountable rounds of spelling and more grammar and more fact checking and timeline edits. And eventually, How Sweet the Sound was sent to print.

At this very moment, I’m in the middle of developmental edits for my second novel, as yet unnamed, which is slated for 2015 publication.

I’m not catatonic this time.

I have not gotten lost in the Marshall’s scarf aisle.

I have not wept nor felt like throwing my manuscript away.

I have cut over 20,000 words and written 30,000 new ones. 

I changed an entire character.

I reworked an entire plot.

And I am loving every single minute of it. 

Seriously, totally loving it.

And I love–adore–my editors, too.

In short, the editing process is not for the faint of heart. If you’re not the sort of person willing to be “palms up” about your writing, not one likely to heed the advice of industry peers and professionals, traditional publishing is probably–certainly–not for you.

But if you are, a whole new world await you and your manuscript.

Editing does what writers–save for perhaps a very, very few–could never have achieved independently, a level of excellence never imagined.

In short, if you love writing, I believe you have to love editing. 

The readers, and indeed your work, deserves no less.

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