Once you know what kind of editing you’d like, you’ve selected a service, and submitted your manuscript, it’s time to wait for your feedback. Some editors will contact you during the editing process, and some won’t. It takes me a while to digest and think about things, so I will often wait to contact the author until I’m done reading the book. Other editors will fire off questions right away. Either way, you can expect the editor to return a copy of your manuscript with comments and changes. I do all of my changes in Microsoft Word’s track changes feature, so the writer can see my suggestions and approve or reject them, and my comments are peppered throughout the text in little bubbles, although I may highlight some book-wide concerns in an email or a critique.
The form and function of your feedback will vary depending on what you’ve asked your editor to look for, but there will be a few things you can expect from the feedback process:
- Expect that you will have to make changes. I know that every writer, in the deep recesses of their heart, hopes that the editor will return their book and say, “This manuscript is absolutely perfect in every way, just like Mary Poppins. You are brilliant. Don’t change a thing.” I do not want to be the bearer of bad news, but this will never happen. It would be a huge waste of money for you, and besides, every writer has something they can make better. It’s best for you if you gently lay this expectation to rest before you receive your feedback.
- Expect that you will feel upset and need to give yourself space. Every author I have worked with sends me an email that goes something like this: “When I opened your email I wanted to cry / I punched a wall / I hated you with every fiber of my being, but I’ve thought about what you’ve said, and I think that you have a lot of really good suggestions.” You are going to have a visceral reaction to your editor’s criticism, even if it is kindly delivered and well-conceived. It’s okay. Breathe a little bit and sleep on it before you make any decisions about what they’ve said. And, please, process your emotions about the criticism before you start making changes.
- Expect that you will disagree with your editor. You will not agree with every change your editor suggests. Editors are people, and their personal preferences and suggestions are not going to be perfect. If you’ve done your work around your emotional reactions to their criticism and still disagree, that’s cool. It’s your book, not the editor’s. The one thing I would suggest, though, is even if you hate the editor’s suggested fix, you consider whether the thing itself might need to be fixed in another way. Neil Gaiman says this better than I ever could: “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” (Source: http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/09/28/neil-gaiman-8-rules-of-writing/) While, of course, I would never admit that MY suggestions are wrong (kidding, kidding), the point stands. Fix the parts that are broken.
With that being said, I have two final bits of advice. First, your editing process will be infinitely more useful to you if you give your editor your best work. Look through your manuscript and make sure all of your sentences are finished, and try to scan for periods and closed quotation marks. While the editor is there to help you make your work cleaner, I always strive to help the authors I work with develop as writers and storytellers as well. My advice is much more useful when I am able to see the author’s best work.
And, second, please don’t ever hesitate to ask for clarification or further information about anything your editor says. If something doesn’t make sense to you, ask. If you’re not sure about why they made some changes, ask. If you want to know what the editor thinks you could do instead, ask. Ask questions! Expect the editor to be a source of information and support for you. I love to answer obscure grammar questions and brainstorm ideas with authors. Editors do the things they do because they love to work with language. If you give us a chance to talk about why a comma goes here and not there, we will be your friends forever.
In all seriousness, though, I hope that I’ve been able to give you a bit of insight into what you can expect from the editing process. In my opinion, every writer needs an editor—even I have someone who edits my work—and the last thing I want is for writers to be too intimidated to reach out and get the help they need. As Ryan can surely attest, I’m more than happy to give you feedback and direction—and I don’t bite. Don’t be afraid to ask.