Surviving an Editorial Assessment

My first foray into paid writing came from a spur-of-the-moment magazine submission. I wrote something close to my heart and, on a whim, sent it to a magazine, who agreed to buy and publish it. This led to nearly a dozen more pieces being published by the same magazine, including several feature articles requested of me by the editor-in-chief.

Open book

But a YA novel was what I really wanted to write so, between magazine submissions, three kids, and part-time work, I wrote my first novel.

All ten drafts of it.

When I felt I could move no further in my revisions and it had run the gauntlet of my inner circle of beta readers, I submitted it to a manuscript development program, then a publishing house competition.

No bites from either.

I then sent it to an agent who appeared to be looking for EXACTLY what I had written.

“Thanks, but no thanks,” was the reply.

Before I ruined my chances with any other agents by submitting a manuscript that may not be as polished as I believed it was, I decided to have it editorially assessed by an independent freelance editor. After MUCH research, I settled on three and put my proposal to them.

First response sent a wave of alarm bells through me (the reasons for which I won’t go into here). This time, I was the one who said, “Thanks, but no thanks”.

The second sounded great, but was not available for a number of months. I wasn’t prepared to wait that long.

The third sounded just as good as the second, and was available in a month’s time. The timing suited so, after much back and forth with questions (all answered to my satisfaction, I might add), a contract was signed and my “baby” was sent for examination.

A few weeks later, I received the assessment. With my heart in my throat, I read the letter (all ten pages of it).

And my confidence plummeted.

Phrases like “a bit slow at the start”, “having a difficult time sympathizing with characters” and “too plot-driven” jumped out at me. Others that mentioned that my multiple POV prose was good and that I don’t tend to overdo exposition in my narrative faded into the background. All I saw was NOT GOOD ENOUGH TO DO THIS. Ouch.

I felt defeated. After a near-perfect record of successful magazine submissions, I felt that I did not have what it takes to write what I really wanted to write – a novel in the genre I love.

I put the letter away to create some distance (my editor’s recommendation after a first read), and revisited it a week later.

And saw it for what it really was: an honest independent critique of EVERYTHING AND ANYTHING an agent or acquiring editor might reject my manuscript for. Not would, but might. I realized that my editor had done her job. She had done what no number of well-meaning family members or friends could – she had incorporated industry knowledge into her recommendations for improvement to my writing and, therefore, my manuscript.

Like writing, editing is subjective. There are no set rules or formulas for a perfect plot, compelling characters and wonderful writing style, just as there are no hard and fast rules for ensuring publication in the traditional sense. Hiring an editor can be an expensive decision but if you treat it as a learning opportunity and a chance to improve your writing (and self-editing) skills, than it can be well worth it – not just for your current manuscript, but also for future projects.

I am currently reviewing my manuscript with my editor’s letter by my side. The decision to hire her was worth it. It just took me a few days to realize.

Next revision coming soon…

Until then, happy writing!


Would love to hear of your experiences with independent editors…

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