One thing I’ve learned this year as a debut author is is that having an idea for a book is a long, long way from having the book. Part of that, if you plan to self-publish, is getting professional eyeballs on your manuscript, so the book will be bought and read and not thrown in the junk pile that poorly written indie books land in.
But I am marketing my memoir to agents. And the agent I sign with will be marketing my book to publishers. So I don’t need a freelance editor, right?
Well, according to the agents I read and talk to, wrong. Writers who go the traditional publishing route need their work edited just as much as self-published authors. Publishers have fewer resources these days and are not putting a lot of money into editing (and marketing) budgets. They are looking for manuscripts that are near perfect.
Because the competition is so fierce, it is much easier to get an agent to represent you if you have a polished manuscript. It’s less work for them and makes your manuscript more attractive to publishers.
Three ways my editor has made my book more marketable
I met my editor, Victoria Mixon, when we both were honored with a Top 10 Blog for Writers award in 2011. She is an absolute wonder at helping writers find their story and tell it in the most engaging way. I would still be stuck if it weren’t for her.
An exceptional memoir is much like a good novel, with a likable but conflicted main character, exciting plot points and an ultimate climax where two opposable character needs collide in a final showdown. Here are just three of the many things I have learned from my editor:
1. Finding the real story is key.
I may have thought I knew what my story was, but working with Victoria in the developmental editing stage, I was able to discard everything that wasn’t relevant until I got to the core theme and premise, the whole point of the story. We dug deep, identifying the characters’ needs and fears, and what will motivate them in the scenes.
In the developmental stage, we created a detailed outline, so that, in Victoria’s words, “every scene had a hook, a development and a climax, every incident causes the next effect and every single twist teaches the reader something they didn’t already know about life.” And we did all of this before I wrote one word of the story.
As Victoria says so aptly in her book, The Art and Craft of Fiction: A Practitioner’s Manual,
Writers who regularly attempt to plot and write at the same time are the ones who wind up drunks.
2. Stories happen because people need things.
Knowing what your protagonist’s greatest need is —and the very last thing she could ever want to cope with—makes for a tense story, one filled with cause and effect that leads the reader to the final climax scene, when the main character must choose between two overwhelming but opposite needs. Because readers want to know, without experiencing it, what happens when they are confronted with an impossible disaster. What will they decide to do? How will they survive?
3. There are a lot of words in first drafts that can be safely edited out.
My last post was, in a way, a love letter to Ernest Hemingway and his clean, clear prose. Victoria talks a lot about this subject in her other book, The Art and Craft of Story: 2nd Practitioner’s Manual. But what she has modeled for me most of all is simplicity in writing. Her copy and line editing of my first draft chapters are teaching me how to remove every single unnecessary word. If my first draft is 120,000 words, which it may end up being, I expect we will have cut 25-50% of it by the time we reach the final draft.
But beyond all this, I learned that an editor is a writer’s best friend. I could have wandered through this story by myself but I wouldn’t have gotten to a publishable story as quickly. And it wouldn’t have been as much fun.
What about you?
Have you used an editor?
What do you think is the most important thing editors do for authors and their manuscripts?