Back in 1999 I submitted a novel to several publishers and agents without ultimately getting very far before I gave up. Earlier this year I pulled that novel out again. While I still think it has one of the best story ideas I have ever come up with, it shocked me to realize how much work it needed before it would be ready for submission. In essence, it was an elaborate outline of a novel. What really struck me was how much I had learned since writing it.
A lot of my learning has come from reading, both fiction and tons of articles and books on writing. My jobs as a technical and content writer have also helped me polish my work, but the one of the most valuable tools in improving my writing has been the editors I’ve worked with.
I lump two different groups of people into the editor category.
First, and the most obvious, are the actual editors from publishing houses, magazines, and contests who have provided feedback on my work. Although, at times, there have been comments that stung my pride, the value of a critique from a professional editor working in the industry is far greater than the cost of a slightly shrunken ego (something many of us can benefit from anyway). I won’t take the time to list those whose feedback has influenced me the greatest, but I think of you all often and am grateful for the way you helped me grow in my skill as a writer and in developing a thicker skin.
I also offer a word of caution to the aspiring authors of the world. Remember, professional editors are amazing resources for improving your work (if you can get them to comment), but they are also people. If a professional editor suggests a stylistic change and you truly, in your heart, believe that what they suggest isn’t right for your story, stick to your guns. While they do know their job, they also have personal preferences that will influence them. Just because one editor doesn’t like your style doesn’t mean there won’t be one who does.
The second group of editors is a less formal set. These are the people you know personally who are willing to read your work and give feedback (sometimes referred to as beta readers). I am lucky to have a number of these individuals in my life who have sacrificed their time to help me chase my dream. You all know that I adore you.
Not all willing readers are great editors, but they can be guided into it. If you help people to understand what it is you need from them, they can become your most valuable assets in the journey to publication. Some of the things I ask my readers to look for are places where the flow of the story is broken in some way, any contradictions in the plot, inconsistencies in characters and plot, the usual grammar and spelling errors, and a variety of other important items. Avid readers tend to make very good beta readers as they are familiar with what the finished product needs to be whether they realize it or not. As with professional editors, however, be aware that personal preference will come into play.
Probably the most important thing to remember when reviewing feedback from anyone is not to take it personally. Even if the person isn’t the most tactful in their presentation, look beyond that to seek even the smallest gem of truth in their words that might help you improve your work. What you will find is that every bit of advice you learn from will not only improve your current novel or story, it will help you make a more polished first draft for your next one because you will be more aware of the mistakes you tend to make.
Learn everything you can from the editors in your life. Value their efforts and they will help you on the road to meeting your next best friend, your agent.