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Editor’s Advice

A lot of people reckon that they have a book in them, and in this age of Kindle Direct Publishing and self publishing the number that apparently achieve this has skyrocketed. However, when I think about how many manuscripts have arrived on my desk over the last twelve to eighteen months in need of serious repair, I do wonder how such manuscripts would fare in a non-editorial environment. Essentially that is what self publishing is.

When manuscripts like this arrive on my desk I only agree to publish them if:

1. The concept is good.

2. There is a need for that manuscript

3. The author agrees to put some work into getting the material up to scratch.

However, very often the level of self editing, even under direction from an editor, is so poor that I am now seriously considering altering my commissioning process. A contract in the future is not going to be issued unless I have the completed/rewritten manuscript, not just the promise of it. I’m afraid I’ve been lax with this in the past – and perhaps too keen to fill a gap in the list. I also reckon with a lot of titles this change in policy is going to add a good six to eight months to the overall schedule.

But what about the first time writer? How can you expect authors to know what you want from them? It’s their text after all can’t you understand how difficult it is to let an editor chop it to pieces?

Please understand, I don’t expect authors to be experts in the publishing and editorial process but I do expect some basic knowledge of what is involved. Even a first time writer should understand the concept of ‘a completed manuscript.’ For example when you say you’re submitting your completed manuscript – it should be exactly that. There shouldn’t be items missing. You shouldn’t, three weeks before publication, email your editor with changes to chapter 8 only for your editor to discover that this is effectively a new chapter with new material in it. The time for that was three weeks before you sent it in.

And then let’s change that question about what the editor wants on its head. What is it that you should want from your editor? You shouldn’t want someone who just gives you an ‘out of editorial’ card; one that allows you to bypass all red-pen instructions. You want someone to mark the typos, check those ridiculous words that spell check seems to think are fine, grab those glaring errors that we all are guilty of…but more than that… you want someone who is going to make your text sing. You want your material to flow. You want someone to let your manuscript breathe. Very often that means getting rid of a lot of precious material – those stories or illustrations that mean something to you, but just sound strange, corny or embarrassing to other people. It can mean removing those two bits of text that are perfectly good in order for that one piece to read brilliantly or simply clearly.

Now the very best of authors manage to do this by themselves, which is why you are going to get some self-publishing success stories. This is why Kindle Direct Publishing are going to have some authors that hit the top sellers. But every single manuscript good, bad or indifferent that arrived on my desk this year – needed work. Even the excellent ones. They need editorial, they need production, they need contacts and know-how and an eye for the visual.

Authors should never do this on their own… they don’t have to.

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About hurrah4books

I'm a writer and children's book editor based in Scotland.

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