Tag Archives: Manuscript

The Professional Edit


You’ve spent months, years, cramming stolen hours into your manuscript. You’ve floated around at work, down the shopping aisle, at long-overdue family reunions, glassy-eyed and dreaming of the day your novel hits the best seller lists (even though you tell everyone you wrote it only for the love of writing).

Finally, you send your manuscript off to that perfect publisher, the one you know is your match, they published that other book that’s similar to yours but nowhere near as exciting. You wait eagerly for weeks, unable to think of anything else and, finally, a response arrives rejecting your manuscript on the basis that ‘whilst strong in plot and imagery, is not quite up to the professional standard necessary for publication.’

It’s not an easy thing, handing our pride and joy over to someone we barely know only to have it handed back smeared in squiggly, red lines and crosses. After all, ‘Asking a writer what he thinks about criticism is like asking a lamp-post what it feels about dogs’ (John Osborne). Yet as we writers know, criticism is part of the job.

So – it’s time. I need an outside point of view. Some professional guidance. I’ve exhausted my family enough. My turn at writer’s group is weeks away and, even then, I can’t submit the mountain of pages I need help with.

But what kind of edit do I need? The SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) provide a helpful explanation of the different types of editing services available on their website.

Here’s a section from their page:

  • Manuscript assessment or critique. A broad overall assessment of your manuscript, pinpointing strengths and weaknesses. Specific problem areas may be flagged, and general suggestions for improvement may be made, but a critique won’t usually provide scene-by-scene advice on revision.
  • Content editing (also known as developmental or substantive editing) focuses on structure, style, and content. The editor flags specific problems–structural difficulties, poor pacing, plot or thematic inconsistencies, stiff dialogue, undeveloped characters, stylistic troubles, flabby writing. The editor him/herself may rewrite the ms. to fix these problems, or may provide notations and detailed advice so the author can address them.
  • Line editing. Editing at the sentence level, focusing on paragraph and sentence structure, word use, dialogue rhythms, etc., with the aim of creating a smooth prose flow.
  • Copy editing. Correction of common errors (grammar, spelling, punctuation), incorrect usages, logic lapses, and continuity problems.
  • Proofreading. Checking for typos, spelling/punctuation errors, formatting mistakes, and other minor mechanical problems.

It’s important to have a clear understanding of what you want from a professional edit. If you already have an experienced mentor you may need a simple copy-edit or proofread. If, like me, you’re in need of that extra professional opinion, you want to improve pace, structure and identify character weaknesses, you may need to pay for the full content edit.

Jane Friedman claims in her article, Should You Hire A Professional Editor? ‘Most writers don’t clearly understand how an editor might improve their work (or to what extent). Writers must have a level of sophistication and knowledge about their work (or themselves!) to know where their weaknesses are, and how a professional might assist them. When writers ask me if they should hire a professional editor, it’s usually out of a vague fear their work isn’t good enough—and they think it can be “fixed.” There are many different types or levels of editing, and if you don’t know what they are—or what kind you need—then you’re not ready for a professional editor.’ 

She goes on to say, 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 USD —unless it’s line editing (copyediting, proofreading).’  To read the whole article, click here.

So, it appears, I may need to apply for a third job.

I’ll need to find an editor I respect. They’ll need experience in my genre – and with my target audience. They’ll need excellent references and testimonials from clients. They’ll need to offer the service I require. I may even ask them for a sample edit to see if they’re a good match. It’s a lot of money, so I may as well do the research to make sure I get the service I want. The Editorial Services section of 2013 Writer’s Market lists over 500 entries, many of which provide some kind of critique service.

I know they can’t perform miracles – that part is up to me. But I need that other set of eyes, those ones with years of experience in the publishing industry to help me make this novel the best it can be. $1,000 USD is a little on the steep side, so I may need to find a compromise.

What are your views on the professional edit/critique? Have you ever hired an editing service for your manuscript? Did you find it helpful?



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Filed under Editing, Getting Published, Uncategorized, WritingTips

Query Letter Over Synopsis?


A reaction many of us writers have to the dreaded synopsis. Writing a manuscript is one thing, but it’s an equal challenge attempting to squash it into a one-pager that will rouse the attention of the droopy-eyed publishing assistant skimming through it, who probably wants nothing more than to burn it with the mountainous pile of them growing on his/her desk that week.

And how necessary is it anyway?

At a writers’ festival I attended last year, I asked a panel of publishers what they looked for in a synopsis. Two of them admitted they rarely even read it. Rather, it was the query letter that would persuade them to investigate further. A strong voice; short, sharp and concise with no grammatical errors. If the query letter sparked their interest, they’d turn to the manuscript, perhaps occasionally referring back to the synopsis for guidance.

They all agreed that the query letter needs to show professionalism, an author that has clearly done their research. Different publishers publish different genres and styles, so if you can list a book they have already published that is similar in style to yours, they’ll know you’ve done your homework.

Marcus Sakey claims in a guest post on Writer’s Digest that ‘a properly written query letter should result in at least 75% of agents requesting the manuscript’. 

He goes on to advise, ‘All you’re doing is seducing the agent. You want to get them interested enough that they ask to see your manuscript. That’s it. It’s like online dating. If you can write a charming e-mail, you might get a date; if you get a date, who knows where it could lead. But try to put all your history and baggage in that first message and you won’t get any play. Instead, demonstrate that you’re worth someone’s time. That you are interesting, sincere, and respectful.’ 

To read the entire post, which includes some very helpful specifics of what to include in a query letter, click here

The three most important things I have learned from researching query letters are –

1. No mistakes. If you can’t prepare a polished query letter, what hope have you got of compiling an entire manuscript?

2. Be concise. Publishers are not interested, nor have time for waffle.

3. Be interesting!

This isn’t to say you should now toss your synopsis in the nearest trash bin and wipe your hands chuckling in relief. The synopsis is part of the submission process whether publishers choose to read it or not, but the query letter is just as important if not more so. It’s the first impression they will have of you. Make sure you tailor it specifically to the publisher you’re sending it to. Do your research. Find your voice. Include all the information necessary, but no more than that.

I’ll leave you on a humorous note with a few of my favourites from SlushPile Hell (if you’ve never visited this site, you must!). 

Query Letter: I have a 10,000 word manuscript which i would like to have published. I am trying to find an agent. My goal is to write a sequel to the book. What are my odds of finding an agent?

Agent Response: About the same as E.L. James’s odds of being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Query Letter: You will LAUGH, CRY, STAND UP, AND CHEER! My compelling story raises the bar in human literature.

Agent Response: I don’t know about raising the bar, but it certainly makes me want to go to a bar.

Query Letter: Deer agent, …

Agent Response: For the love of all that’s holy and good in this world, please kill me.

If you have ever had a response to a query letter and want to share it, I’d love to hear about it. Good luck with your submissions.


Filed under The Publishing Industry