QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Fifty Shades of Editing

by Stina Lindenblatt @StinaLL

 ©Stina Lindenblatt

Regardless of whether you’re pursuing traditional or self publishing, your book needs to be well edited. If it isn’t, agents and editors will reject it. If you self publish and the story and writing is weak, your writing career is pretty much doomed, unless you use a pen name for your next book. With so many options out there for readers, it’s tough to get a second chance if you blow the first one.

The point of this post is not to provide you with advice on how to edit your book after the first draft. Like everything else in this industry, it’s subjective. What works for one person might not work for someone else. A writer who plots and figures out characterizations first will approach his second draft differently than a writer who jumped straight into writing the first draft without much planning. Instead, I’m focusing on the edits you need to consider from an outside perspective. In all cases, you want to make sure you give the individual the best version of the story to date. That means, no sending them your first draft. You just waste everyone’s time when you do that.


This group of individuals is invaluable. They are your first line of editing and they are free. Well, almost free. When someone offers to give you feedback on your project, remember it’s not a one-way street. There is nothing worse than giving feedback on someone’s 130,000-word manuscript and they do not reciprocate. This group includes critique partners and beta readers. What it doesn’t include is your mom, unless your mom can be critical and give valuable feedback. A lot can’t. On the other hand, if your mom is overcritical about everything in your life, you might want to skip on her feedback. Same deal with your mother-in-law.

Critique Partners and Critique Groups

With these individuals, you usually send your novel to them in chunks. Some groups will meet once a month and exchange chapters. They focus on the here and now, and chances are they won’t remember what they read last time. Because of this, they tend not to see the big picture. They point out places where you could rewrite a sentence so that it’s no longer confusing, and point out things that don’t make sense story wise. These individuals tend to be writers. 

Beta Readers

Unlike the critique partner, beta readers look at the big picture. They will point out problems with your plot and when your characterizations could be stronger (critique partners can do this, too). Some give line edits, but it’s not part of the job description. Beta readers can be writers or avid readers. 


Professional editors tend to have a higher skill set compared to our beta readers and critique partners. But remember, not all are created equal. This depends on numerous factors, including their editing education and experience. An editor who works for Simon & Schuster, for example, will have a greater skill level compared to an author of several short stories who decided to make some extra cash on the side. 

Agents and Editors (with a publisher)

These are individuals are “free,” but they need to love your project and see a market for it before they will offer you a contract. Your book might be great, but if there’s no market for it (in their eyes), agents and editors will pass on your project. Are they right? Not necessarily. But if you’re planning to go the traditional route, you need to impress them first. 

Freelance Editors

These individuals are the ones you hire if you plan to self publish a quality book. This is a step you don’t want to skip. Even if you’re planning to pursue traditional publishing, it doesn’t hurt to have professional editing done before you query. In today’s competitive slush piles, this step might give you the extra edge you need to land a contract. I know one author who does this. The result is she has less editing to do with her publisher, which saves everyone time.


No matter which route you go, there are three levels of editing you need to consider. With traditional publishing, all three are typically done. 

Developmental/Structural Edits

These edits involve the big ticket items, such as plot, characterization, overall pacing, setting, story structure, etc. When you hear an author mention how they received fifteen pages from their editor, this is what they are referring to.

Line Edits

After the big ticket items come line edits. This is where the editor will make comments in your manuscript at the sentence level. She will point out sentences that don’t flow well and make suggestions. Remember, they are just that: suggestions. Be careful you don’t end up messing with your voice (unless you want to). 

Copy Edits

This level of editing is no less important that the others. A copy editor will point out typos, missing words, and inconsistencies. A good one will notice that your main character has blue eyes on page 30 and brown eyes on page 99. That is their job. I recommend you don’t skip on this one. A book filled with typos screams unprofessional. It also screams, “Don’t read my next book!”

The most important thing to remember is that the people giving you feedback need to share your vision for your book. If they don’t, you will end up ripping your hair out in frustration. When looking for the right individuals, see if you can get feedback on a few pages first. That way you can see if you are a good mix.

Have you used a professional editor? How many critique partners and beta readers do you tend to use for each project?


Genevieve Graham said...

Terrific article. SO TRUE! As a freelance editor it kills me to see some of the work that people have self published without having hired an editor first. What bothers me the most is imagining how good that story COULD have been.

Christine Danek said...

This is a great break down. Thanks!

SanWrites said...

Thanks for the thumbs-up for copy editors! Editors really can make the difference between amateur and pro.

Traci Kenworth said...

Thanks for the insight into the editing process!! I (dare I say it?) look forward to the day when I go through them because it'll mean I'm that much closer to being published!! Although, don't quote me on that when the day comes!! Lol.

Lucianne Poole said...

Thanks for the great post. This was particularly helpful to me because I was looking at becoming/getting a critique partner and I wasn't sure of what it involved.