The Importance of Finding the Right Editor

          I recently had a friend of mine ask me to edit his manuscript. Although I know him well enough I’m not sure what genre he likes to write. Being both a librarian and an author I do like to read. But, like every other human being I have types of books I like and others that just aren’t for me. As an author I do try to branch out and read things outside of my comfort zone. (Westerns, romance novels, mainstream fiction.) But I’d rather dislike something that’s about to be adapted into a movie than be the first person to read a good but rough manuscript and say it was “Eh.”

            Editors are like you and I. They have specific genres they like to read and they do a better job at editing books they’re geared to like than to tell you to completely change your manuscript to better suit their needs. It would be like me saying “Yeah, the plot’s good but all the kissing junk is really distracting from the main flow of the book.”
            “Helen. It’s a romance novel.”

            I once had a friend write a children’s book about a unicorn and turn it into her editor. Chiefly this author friend wrote westerns, and chiefly her editor who had worked with her for many years read westerns. “I don’t like it.” The editor declared.

            “Well why?”
            “I just don’t!”
            “But why?!”
            “…I just don’t like unicorns, okay!”

            The editor, who had been reading and enjoying this authors western novels for years upon years simply didn’t like children’s books, especially children’s books about unicorns, and as a result, my author friend never pushed to have her children’s book published. It’s not the end of the world, but if my author friend were to find another editor who liked children’s books, particularly ones about unicorns, that editor might have said something like “This story has good bones but we need a different illustrator.” Or “The language is too lofty. Please remember most of your audience is under five.” Or “What if instead of Sparkle Mountain we call it Sprinkle Mountain? That way the chocolate river makes sense. Because the mountains in this story are actually made of ice cream, right?”

            An editor can make or break a book. They’re the first line of defense from not only type-os but also obscure blunders like “Yeah, that law in Canada changed back in 2012 so here’s an updated statute of limitations. I only spent an hour trying to find that. No biggie.” Or worse. They keep you from breaking your own laws like “You said your vampires couldn’t go out in the sunlight. Yet Damaris gets overly excited when he meets Michelle’s dog and he runs outside without his umbrella. Yet, he comes back to the porch unscathed… Hurt him.” Editors are hugely important. But not every editor is going to like your book just like not every reader is going to like your book once it hits the market. You have to find one that’s going to see your manuscript for the diamond in the rough that it is and then help you polish it until it sparkles.

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What Does a Publisher Do?

           There is often confusion about the role of a book publisher. Some people think that a publisher should just take your manuscript, format it as a book, and put it up on Amazon. Then in a few weeks, the author sees the money roll in. The process is quite different, and there is much more involved.

            In brief, the publisher solicits manuscripts, decides if there is sufficient interest to contract an editor for the manuscript, and prepares a contract for the author. This is just the beginning of what can be a very lengthy process.

            Traditional, big firm publishers often rely on agents to find manuscripts. Today, one can contact small independent publishers directly. Thus, the publisher is the first person to look at submissions. I read at least the first 50 pages. If the plot, characters, or grammar errors are substantial, then the manuscript needs developmental editing. I send it back but remain open to looking through it again. If the resubmission is clean and a good fit for our company, then I assign the manuscript to an editor. Once I have an editor for the book, I send the author a contract. I negotiate and answer questions about the contract. The publisher issues all contracts.

           It is important that the author and editor have a good working relationship, and if there is a problem, then I find one you can work with. The author/editor relationship is crucial. It may take several months to get the manuscript in shape.

             When the author and editor have completed their work, then I look at the manuscript again. I am the last person to look at the manuscript before it is published. I am the ultimate quality control. This averages 90 hours per book. Multiply that by the number of novels published in one year and you can see where the majority of work lies.

            The most common problems that arise are authors who think they have submitted a completed final manuscript which they believe needs little editing. Afterall, they have likely worked on the manuscript for months—sometimes years. However, the authors who are most successful are those who are willing to compromise and accept that others are offering input which they believe will increase the likelihood of success for the book.

            Publishers aren’t running a charity for authors. There is no reason for a publisher to invest in a book if the author thinks that it can’t be improved. If you think your manuscript is already perfect, then you can easily and fairly quickly upload your manuscript to Amazon through Kindle Direct Publishing. The reason to sign with a publisher is because you are seeking their expertise for editing, grammar, cover design, and layout.

            The other issue that arises is marketing of the book. Some people think that signing with a publisher means that someone else will do the marketing and the author can sit back and wait for the money to roll in. This is far from what actually happens. Traditional publishers—the big firms—require their authors to go on extensive book tours. This usually involves lots of travel and lots of time over weeks or months. Any money that the traditional publishers spend on this marketing is subtracted from the expected royalties.

            Small publishers typically do not have large marketing budgets but like the traditional publishers must rely on the authors to do most of the marketing. The publisher may share some of those costs—entering book contests, for example, but it is up to the author to blog, create a website, and in general have a social media presence.

            Everyone wants to write a book, and today, with the Internet and companies such as Amazon and Lulu, anyone can be an author. In fact, an entire cottage industry has popped up, eager for their share of the pie. Many aspiring authors are intimidated, confused, or even discouraged from pursuing their dreams because the publishing process is complicated and varies from one company to another. It doesn’t have to be that way. Dreams don’t have to be realistic, but the manner by which you attain those dreams must be grounded in reality.

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