Seeing Red

Charles m. schulz

Charles m. schulz

As both longtime editors and writers, we've been on both the giving and receiving end of editorial input. We know that getting your manuscript back with a sea of red marks on it (or, in this day and age, Track Changes) can be discouraging. But the hard truth is that the number one reason books fail in the marketplace is due to lack of, or insufficient, or poor editing. It's one of the most important parts of the publishing process, and it will make the difference between a book that you can be proud of and one that you'll use to prop the window open.

As editors, we look at a heavily marked-up manuscript with immense satisfaction, knowing that we've done our job well. Unfortunately, it can sometimes evoke the opposite response in the recipient – the writer – who suddenly thinks their work is no longer worthy of publication. Not true. The editor's job is to bring forth from you the best possible book. If you're not getting a significantly marked-up manuscript back from your editor, then they're not doing their job. It's that simple. As editor and bestselling author Jen Blood puts it:

Our number one goal is to make your work look brilliant. We aren't judging you, we aren't trying to make you look bad, and we certainly aren't saying your writing isn't fabulous. We're saying: "Hey, good manuscript here are the things you can/should do to make it even better." Because that's what you're paying us to do. 

Let's face it, we all make mistakes when it comes to basic grammatical issues, punctuation, spelling, etc., and it's great to have another set of eyes to catch that kind of stuff. It's when a content edit (also known as a structural or substantive edit) is done that authors can often forget to separate themselves emotionally from their work and look at the feedback objectively. A content editor is looking at a work of fiction for plot holes, wandering timelines, lagging pace, proper character development, believable dialogue, and more. For non-fiction, they're working on organization of content, removal of repetition or extraneous information, clarification of ideas, among other things. And in both cases, their job is to fix, or at least point out, awkward, clunky writing. That's a lot to look for, so again, as Blood points out, "If your editor is not returning a manuscript covered in red ink/littered with Track Changes, you need a new editor."

So the next time you get an edited manuscript back, breathe deeply, approach those recommendations with calm objectivity, then thank your lucky stars that you have an editor who is working hard, paying attention, and ultimately, has got your back.

For more information on what editors do and why we love them, check out these articles at The Book Designer and The Creative Penn.