Thursday, June 2, 2011

Am I Ready for the Edit?

One of my friends mentioned to me this morning that she'd been asked to edit someone's book.  Most of my friends are good enough writers to be able to give a good editing, but therein lies a problem:

Few beginning writers understand what a good edit actually is.

Friendships can be ruined when someone asks, "Will you edit my novel/story/memoirs?"  There's nothing innately inimical in the question; it's actually a display of trust.  But does the writer want an edit, or does she really want a review?  Perhaps what she's looking for is actually encouragement.  That isn't editing, although it is important. Or maybe she wants some grammar correction, or a little syntax help.  That is editing, but it's not a full edit.

When I ask for someone to edit my novel, I am basically asking, "Please tell me all the ways in which this sucks.  Go into detail, and be specific on how terribly each and every page is written.  Look for every flaw, inconsistency, poorly chosen word, and confusing pronoun.  Give me an in-depth explanation of how my characters aren't believable, engaging, and well-rounded.  I also want a full summary of every minor plot hole, loophole, and stupid gimmick I've included.  If I'm not crying by the time you're done, go back and do it again." I'm not a masochist - I just want my novel to be the best it can possibly be. And if I don't know where the flaws are, I can't fix them.

Many people find it much easier to ask a stranger to do the editing, because there's less emotion involved; I prefer to have friends do it, because I know my friends are well-trained and because many of them have let me edit something or another of theirs, and they deserve a little revenge.  Since I plan on publishing, and preferably with a traditional publishing house, I expect criticism.  I don't want to put out any writing sample I'd be ashamed of calling my own: that is, anything with inferior grammar, inherent plot holes, or large logical fallacies.  So I'd like my works to be well-edited even before they hit the publisher's editor, and that means I need true editing, not just a little encouragement or typographical correction (not that both of those aren't nice, too.)

If you think your story is ready for editing, consider if you're ready to ask someone to tell you all your writing flaws.  This should make you cringe.  If it doesn't, you're not being really honest with yourself.  It will be emotionally bruising, especially at first, and it is very easy to get discouraged when someone you care about points out the flaws you didn't know you had.  But, like all forms of self-improvement, the pain is a necessary part of growing.  If you get a stone of dread in your stomach but you still want to hear the feedback, then you're probably ready for someone else to edit your story. 
It's okay not to agree with all the edits provided.  It's okay to change only what you think is relevant.  But it's not okay to ask for an edit and then stop being friends with your editor, because they gave you the genuine, in-depth, highly critical edit they thought you asked for.  So if you're not positive you're ready for the real thing, then be honest and be specific: "Will you read this for me and tell me what I'm doing well?" or "I'm writing a book, and I'd like someone to look for typographical errors.  Would you be my spellcheck and grammar check?"  Otherwise, you may get more than you wanted - and lose someone very important to you for the price.

What are your experiences with editing?  Have you ever been asked to edit by someone who wasn't actually ready to get an edit?  What happened?


  1. This reminds me a bit of a post I did a few months ago, on when you should ask for a critique. (

    I agree with your suggested phrasings for different types of editing and would add: "Would you mind reading through my story for plot/character inconsistencies?" For a lot of people, "big picture" editing is way more important than the SPAG, especially if those big picture problems will result in extensive rewrites.

  2. That's a good one! Especially since sometimes you want JUST the character inconsistencies, without any other kinds of edits. After all, what's the point of spellcheck when you'll be rewriting entire sections?

    And if you guys haven't, you'll want to check out Scribe's post! It talks, amongst other things, on the hazards of asking for a read when partway through a story instead of waiting until the end (something I had to learn the hard way!)