Editing is Hard, Becoming a Professional Writer is Harder
By Tricia Goyer
Recently a friend asked me a question about editing her first novel.
Editing is hard, but really it’s not so much getting one manuscript ready to be published. It’s about understanding the writing world.
To have a manuscript ready for publication means you need to be a writing professional. You need to know the difference between passive and active sentences, you need to know about dialogue, narration, point-of-view, theme, direct thoughts and tons more.
You also need to understand the business side of writing. You need to know about conferences, publishers, professional writers and editors, the CBA and ABA–it’s a ton of stuff. If you want to become a successful published author, it’s just like studying to understand any other business. The difference is that in this business a college degree isn’t necessary. Yes, it does help a lot if you go to college and get a Creative Writing degree. Your professors would probably help you with a lot of these things, but that’s not totally necessary.
There’s a good side to that and a bad side to not needed a degree. The good side is that someone like me (who only has a high school diploma and some college classes) can become a successfully published author with a lot of initiative and hard work. My “launch” into the publishing world was attending local writer’s groups, and then I attended Mt. Hermon Writer’s Conference nearly every year for fourteen years. After that I read magazines and books. Writer’s Digest Magazine is one I highly recommend. They have a website, too, where you can read lots of articles for free. I have larger list of other resources I recommend below.
The bad side to that is that unlike becoming a doctor or a lawyer or a beautician, there is no one to test you before you go into business. Most people don’t know how much they don’t know about the craft and the publishing world until they get started. I started sending out articles before I read one book on writing articles and it wasn’t too successful. (I got one article published in three years!) After I took a class at Mt. Hermon on article writing, and read some books on it, I started to understand why I wasn’t getting published. The next year I sold over 30 articles, most to national publications.
I can’t just say, “Do these three things” for a novel, or for a children’s book, or articles and they you’ll get published. What you really need to do is start reading a lot of articles, books, and blogs on writing and getting to know everything there is to know about the craft. Put aside your novel for a while. (Or article ideas or children’s book ideas.) Instead, just gain knowledge about being a writer and what is needed in a good novel. Once you start to gain this knowledge, then going back to your manuscript will be much easier. You’ll be able to see things for yourself, instead of me trying to explain things to you.
Just so you know what to expect, I’ve heard it said it takes about 10 years from the time you start writing (and studying fiction) before you have a published novel on the shelf. It was about 9 years for me. Getting articles published, of course, can happen a lot more quickly, but you have to be diligent about reading the books on article writing and following the steps.
So basically it’s not about your one book … it’s about being a knowledgeable writer.
Think of it this way, if you want to get your book published then it needs to be great to get the notice of an acquisitions editor. And when he or she takes it to publishing committee they will be comparing it to other books that they are interested in publishing. Some of those projects may be from new writers like you. Others may be from writers who already have books published.
They’re not only going to just look at how much they like that one book, but they’re going to think long-term. Here are some questions they may ask:
- Who is this person?
- Is she just a one-hit wonder?
- Can she produce another book in a short amount of time?
- Is she knowledgeable about the industry?
- Is she going to be easy to work with?
- Can she work at a professional level?
- Can she be interviewed by the press and sound knowledgeable?
- Can she represent our company well?”
Publishers are asking these questions because the publishing company will invest $50,000 – $100,000 in your book if they decide to publish it. As a new author you may only get around $5,000 as an advance (which is an advance on your future sales), but they invest in their editors, their marketing, in the cover, in the printing, in the salesmen, in the advertising, etc.
Are you knowledgeable enough about writing and the publishing world for someone to put that type of investment into you?
I self-edit all my books. They need to be in GREAT condition when I send them into my publishing house. If they weren’t I wouldn’t get another contract. Once they are at the publishing house there are additional editors who go over my manuscripts, but I have to turn in a great book to start.
I don’t recommend hiring anyone to do your editing for you because you really need to understand it all. In addition to just editing of the sentences and paragraphs there will need to be editing of the chapters, the theme, the conflict, etc.
Because I’m a professional writer now (after A TON OF WORK and study) I know a lot of the things I need to do as I write, so there is less time in editing. I know what works and what doesn’t as I write, but after I write a chapter I go over it 4-5 times to make sure it works, sounds great, and is edited to the best of my ability.
After my manuscript is sent in to the publisher I then work with an in-house editor for at least another month.
Tricia Goyer is a busy mom of six, grandmother of two, and wife to John. Somewhere around the hustle and bustle of family life, she manages to find the time to write fictional tales delighting and entertaining readers and non-fiction titles offering encouragement and hope. A bestselling author, Tricia has published thirty-three books to date and has written more than 500 articles. She is a two time Carol Award winner, as well as a Christy and ECPA Award Nominee. She is on the blogging team of several websites and hosts the weekly radio podcast, Living Inspired. Learn more about Tricia at www.triciagoyer.com.