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E is for Editing.

Writers know that their work needs editing. But how much? And when to stop? To answer these questions, M.L. Keller from The Manuscript Shredder shares her insights.

Editing loop:

How to identify it, how to get out, and when to let a project go

Feel like you are stuck in an editing loop? How many times have you revised your first page, your opening chapter, or your entire book? While revision is an important part of the writing process, many writers get stuck in this phase, wasting countless hours, days, and even years of effort with no payoff. But when the mythical golden request is always one more query away, authors are unable to abandon the effort that went into the project.

Identifying an editing loop

There are many ways an author can get stuck in an editing loop. Most fall into three main categories: beta feedback, query treadmill, and random revision.

Chasing Betas

While getting feedback from beta readers is important, rewriting to accommodate every suggestion is a trap. Betas’ opinions are just that: opinions. If a beta points out a mistake, by all means, fix it. But if a beta offers a subjective opinion, you don’t have to follow it. Before making changes, make sure you agree with your beta’s opinion.

(For more on evaluating writing advice click here)

Query Treadmill

One popular writing website suggests sending out queries in batches and making revisions after each batch. This technique has the danger of turning into a treadmill. After each batch, the writer makes superficial changes and sends out another batch, producing the same results.

If you aren’t getting requests, double check:

Am I sending to agents who are actively looking for my genre, age category? Agents post descriptions of what they want. This is like placing an order at a restaurant. If the agent is a vegetarian, she isn’t going to want your steak. Also, look for agents who are willing to take debut authors. (Yes, this matters.)

Am I following the submission guidelines? Agents HATE this. Many of them will just delete your query without looking at it. Follow the submission guidelines. I know it’s annoying to give one person 5 pages in the email when another wants the first 50 as an attachment, but it’s a lot less annoying than looking at stacks of rejections.

If the answer to both these questions is yes, then small changes aren’t going to fix the problem.

Perfectionism

Everyone wants a perfect manuscript, but it doesn’t exist. Agents aren’t looking for perfection. They are looking for story and voice. Unless your manuscript is a mess, minor imperfections aren’t keeping you from getting requests. Agents expect to do revisions on any manuscript they accept. Obsessing over commas and periods will be your editor’s job.

Getting out on an editing loop

Let go of the perfect manuscript delusion

There is no such thing. Even published novels aren’t perfect. If you wait until yours is perfect, it will never be ready. Also, if you do manage to land an agent, you will go through a series of revisions with her. If you have already convinced yourself that your manuscript is perfect, you will be resistant to any changes your agent or editors suggest.

Don’t edit without a plan

Make sure you do your edits in the right order

Top-level structural edits are first, then scene level edits, and then line edits. If you do your edits out of order you will waste time and become frustrated with the process.

(For more tips on editing in the right order click here.)

Seek outside help

If you haven’t already gotten beta feedback make sure you do. A few qualified betas will help you see your manuscript from the reader’s perspective and, hopefully, help you pin down what isn’t working. If you have the funds, consider a manuscript evaluation from a professional editor. If your team cannot solve the problem, then it may be time to move on.

When to abandon a project

There are so many reasons why a perfectly good book doesn’t get anywhere.

  1. Too similar to something already on the market.
  2. The subject matter is no longer in vogue.
  3. Book doesn’t fit the established genre tropes but doesn’t effectively establish new ones.
  4. The market is currently flooded.

The problem with these issues is that they cannot be fixed. If you have exhausted your list of agents, then it might be time to move on. One more round of revisions isn’t going to bring back dystopian zombie/vampire romance.

While there is no magic number of rejections or revisions that determines the end of a book’s eligibility, continuing on a path to nowhere isn’t helping you as a writer. If you’ve reached the point where you don’t know what else to do, close the file and start something new. You don’t have to delete the book. It may just need a better market, or even a better writer (i.e. the writer you will one day become.) It’s ok to put it away for the day when you and the market are ready.

Getting stuck in an editing loop is a trap that can prevent any writer from achieving her goals. Know when enough is enough, and you will always be moving forward.

M. L. Keller is a freelance writer specializing in education, health and wellness, and family-friendly travel. Her alter ego, the Manuscript Shredder, maintains a blog dedicated to helping emerging writers hone their craft. She is also the creator and host of the #QuerySwap Twitter event.

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Do you have any questions for Michelle? What are your thoughts about editing?

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