One of the hardest moments for me as a writer was almost 5 years ago when an author friend read my manuscript and said "I know you are proud of this and it's a good story, but it's not ready for others to see."
What a punch in the gut.
But she did more for me than I ever knew. She first taught me about POV. I always told stories in third person point-of-view, but she suggested first. What a challenge for a writer! All those chapters that happened away from the main character had to be rewritten as he had to experience it. This helped me clarify what was important to the story and stop me from head-hopping from character to character. Indie authors beware: shifting from first person POV to third in the same novel is a dead giveaway of a new writer.
After going through that long process of rewriting an entire novel in a different POV, I realized how much I love writing in first person. It pulls the reader in and allows one to get inside the head of the main protagonist; keeping it immediate and personal.
I've worked with so many editors since then and have seen very different styles from each. Editors can be your best friends and allies- even when you want to smack them. You think they are ruining your story or telling the story THEY want: but they really are helping you find the important points and make each chapter move the story along. I've had pages covered in red marks and comments - even when certain reviewers may think some of my books were never edited. Trust me: they all were.
As important as it is to work with a great, qualified editor – there are things authors can do to help put their best foot forward when submitting that manuscript to the editor: certain rules that apply across the board that can allow your editor to do his/her best job. Here are a few I’ve picked up from different editors and wanted to pass along to my writer friends.
- Check the tense of your story. Don’t jump from past tense to present tense within the same manuscript.
- Set that POV and stick with it! If you are writing in first person POV (using “I said”) – you can’t have that chapter where Sally is at the bank cashing her check because I am not there to witness it. In first person POV – your protagonist must be privy to everything going on.
- Help your editor’s and reader’s eyes by paying attention to formatting rules:
Some of my personal flaws are: writing in a passive voice. Telling more than I show. Starting too many sentences with “I” when writing in first POV. Not using enough description at times to paint the entire picture. Double check your own work on these before sending to an editor – they are going to get you for these!
- Narrative and dialogue should be split.
- If a new person speaks, they get their own line. (No need to crowd your page.)
- If there is a page of dialogue – add some modifiers throughout to assist the reader in keeping up with who is talking. A simple “he said/she said” will suffice.
- If the character thinks it – use italics. If they speak it out loud to themselves, you need to use the quotes.
- Add ‘easy beats’ by breaking up a dialogue with a descriptive phrase in the middle. Even if that is “So-in-so said” between two sentences they are speaking.
And if you've worked with an editor before submitting to a publisher (which I have been known to do simply because I want to submit the best possible thing to a publisher), be sure and clean up that manuscript before submitting! If an editor has written notes to you in the manuscript itself and not as a comment – by all means – ERASE it! Why should a potential publisher see notes another editor has written to you?
And lastly: don’t be upset when that publisher decides to edit it in a different way. After all, they are the ones investing time and money into you and may have other great ideas for you.
Hope these things help my author friends reading this. I’ve made these mistakes and think it’s great to share so someone else doesn’t have to make them too.