What I Learned from Editing
In the past few years, I've done an enormous amount of editing. I work as a manuscript consultant and help other writers develop their books, and I've (almost completely) rewritten two novels. Here are some of the things I've learned about the editing process:
TOP FALSE ASSUMPTIONS EDITING CLIENTS MAKE
1. An editor will "fix" your manuscript. (An editor can help you fix it.)
2. He/she will introduce you to his or her agent. (Editors are incredibly selective about recommending clients to their agents, because their own reputation hangs on the line every time they do so.)
3. Editorial letters aren't worth the extra money. (Those letters are far more valuable than a string of comments on a manuscript. They require the editor to think holistically about the project and articulate not only what isn't working, but offer up constructive ideas about how to improve it.)
4. It shouldn't be so darn expensive! Here's what Jane Friedman has said: "Writers may sincerely seek professional help, but very few are willing to pay for it. You probably will not receive a quality review on your entire manuscript—that will actually affect your chances of publication—for less than $1,000—unless it’s line editing (copyediting, proofreading etc)."
TOP MANUSCRIPT ERRORS
1. Telling rather than showing. There are times when telling is important, but most of the time? Choose action over summary.
2. There isn't a driving question. Not much is actually happening.
2. Characters are not differentiated enough. Readers need to be reminded frequently of what characters look like--and I don't just mean their hair or eye color.
3. Dialogue is dull or stilted. Read your dialogue aloud. Pick your favorite book and analyze the dialogue. Then take yours and chop it up, give it subtext, make it personal.
4. The themes are not clear or sustained.
5. The end is rushed. Take your time with the denouement. The reader is more interested than you think in how this all ties together. A rushed or incomplete ending can negate the entire reading experience.
I've made these assumptions myself, and my work has exhibited many of these "errors." And I'm not done yet learning how to be a better writer. With patience, relentlessness, flexibilty and imagination, we muddle our way through the drafts until we get there!
Katrins's debut novel The Forgotten Hours is a Washington Post and Amazon Charts Bestseller. Her next novel, This Terrible Beauty, is forthcoming March 2020. If you're interested in more from Katrin, you can sign up for her newsletter at www.katrinschumann.com.
Katrin Schumann is the author of The Forgotten Hours (Lake Union, 2019), a Washington Post bestseller; This Terrible Beauty, a novel about the collision of love, art and politics in 1950s East Germany (March, 2020); and numerous nonfiction titles. She is the program coordinator of the Key West Literary Seminar. For the past ten years she has been teaching writing, most recently at GrubStreet and in the MA prison system, through PEN New England. Before going freelance, she worked at NPR, where she won the Kogan Media Award. Katrin has been granted multiple fiction residencies. Her work has been featured on TODAY, Talk of the Nation, and in The London Times, as well as other national and international media outlets, and she has a regular column on GrubWrites. Katrin can also be found at katrinschumann.com, and on Twitter and Instagram: @katrinschumann.See other articles by Katrin Schumann