Editing is the bane and the blessing of a writer’s existence – a bane because it is so frustrating and time-consuming; a blessing because if managed properly, it puts a writer’s work out front as the shining gem of storytelling that it is.
More importantly, editing is the key to getting noticed.
If I repeated every tweet I’ve seen on this topic, this blog would be about nothing BUT editing. Even so – there were six recent tweets about editing that really stood out (Ha! I’m an agent for agent tweets…there’s some irony in that…).
Eye-Opener: I’d lie if I said my eyes didn’t widen just a wee bit when I read this one. The 800-1000 submissions per month I totally understand; but out of a potential 12,000 submissions per year – only two are taken on?
Yoiks. This means if I want to stand out, I need to make sure my manuscript is in the best possible condition before sending it in.
Hard But True: Both of these tweets back each other up with the same reality: you can’t expect an agent to be so wowed by your story that they’ll overlook typos or loose writing, and just “let the editors fix that later.” As we discussed earlier in our Agent Tweets series: the query letter – and then the manuscript – is more or less part of a job interview. Editing is the way you dress it up right for the interview.
Yes, yes, I hear you wail. I hear this all the time!!! But how much editing is enough? There is such a thing as spinning your wheels for too long.
I completely agree. Sometimes you need to know when to stop tampering and just send it on.
So how DO we know when enough editing is enough? Here are a couple agent responses:
Time is Your Friend: Though the second tweet specifies “query” and not “manuscript,” the principle is the same for both tweets ~ to really get a polished manuscript, you need time – not just to work on it, but to walk away from it for a while. Get some emotional distance from it. Then go back and edit. This is what is generally called a “cold read” and it is hugely valuable to writers, enabling them to become more objective about their own work.
Notice that both tweets hint that editing your manuscript comes in repetitive stages:
Most published authors that I read and admire generally advise going through these “layers” a minimum of three times before sending out that first query letter. Remember: agents want the manuscript finished and at its glossy best when you query, so that when they make that full request there are minimal hitches in the proceedings.
Okay…..so how horrific are these editing stages we’re talking about?
Bruised Egos: None of us like to be told that some interlude of which we are very proud isn’t worthy of the whole story. But therein lies some advice that is also some of the oldest, and difficult to accept, which the above tweet touches on neatly: If you or I are deeply attached to any character or scene, or prosy description, because we feel we “did so well” at that point — chances are it shouldn’t be there, because we’re just showing off.
Bottom Line: “Editing” is not merely a matter of correcting grammatical and typographical issues. It involves removing those bits that burden the tale unnecessarily, and hold back your manuscript from being its best – from being a two-in-twelve-thousand chance of catching an agent’s eye, and finding your way to the publisher’s desk.