Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Writing Advice from an Editor

As a freelance editor, I’m often asked what advice I’d give writers when it comes to writing. I could go on and on about this topic, but I decided to compile ten things all writers should do before publishing their book.

1. Read in your genre every day. While reading on a daily basis is good, reading in your genre is better. This keeps you on top of what’s been done already and it allows your subconscious mind to learn the subtle tricks for successful storytelling in that genre.

2. Learn the craft of writing like your life depends on it. Too many writers don’t bother to really learn the craft of writing. Sure, it’s a great accomplishment to complete a 90,000 word book. Not everyone can do that. However, just because the novel is written, doesn’t mean it’s publishable. Maybe the story is even good, but if the manuscript is filled with craft errors, the book will fail. Readers, whether they’re agents, editors, or simply people who love to read, have expectations. If you don’t know what they are, how are you supposed to fulfill the reader’s needs? There are rules to writing publishable novels. Learn them.

3. Design your writing like an engineer. Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, at some point you need to figure out where the story is going. For plotters, that happens before you write. You’ll probably have character sketches written out, GMC (goal, motivation, conflict) sheets filled, and a plot outline to follow. Pantsers still need to do these things, but they usually worry about this after they’ve completed the first draft, once they begin their editing stage. Some writers do a little of both styles. How you design your story isn’t important, but you need to do it. Stories and characters have arcs. Make sure yours are obvious. The more you know about your characters, the easier it is to make them appear three dimensional. But you have to sit and think about all of this before you polish your novel.

4. Love your story as if you are its mother. If you don’t love your writing, nobody will. Getting published is hard. Your story will go through all kinds of scrutiny. If you don’t love the characters and the plot like you’re their mother, you’ll probably give up before the battle is won. However, that doesn’t mean you need to hold onto every single word you’ve written. Even a mother knows when it’s time to let her baby go. If your editor or agent or several critique partners have told you to cut a scene, chapter, or character, you should probably listen. Don’t take this the wrong way. There’s a danger in listening to everyone. If you’re in a critique group, you have to know your characters and your story well enough to understand when fellow critiquers’ advice makes sense and when it doesn’t. Often your critique partners are at the same writing level as you, so they don’t necessarily know better, even if they have good intensions. The best way to judge whether or not to change something is if more than one person suggested the change, or if an industry professional made the suggestion.

5. Edit your writing like you’re that anal retentive teacher you hated in school. You remember that teacher everyone loved to hate because she was so damn anal retentive that you had to think twice as hard in her class? Well, now you are that teacher. Search and destroy any error in your manuscript. And then do it again, until your story is so polished, it squeaks.

6. Have other writers read and critique your work. As much as family and friends have good intentions when reading your work, most of them will never be honest enough to help you grow as a writer. Either they don’t want to hurt your feelings or they don’t know how to judge if a book is publishable or not. Heck, even agents struggle with that. Your best bet is to join a critique group and have other writers critique your work.

7. Decide which path to take: traditional publishing, e-publishing, or self-publishing. Before you jump into the great agent chase, research these three options and make sure you follow the path that best suits your needs. There are pros and cons to each.

8. Advocate for your work with the passion of a politician. No matter whether you’re self-publishing or not, you’ll still need to market your book. This is another reason you need to love it because you have to convince others they’ll love it, too. The best way to do this is to stay focused. Who is your target reader? How do you reach her? How can you convince her that your book is different from all the others like it? Pretend your book is running for office. How can you encourage readers to buy into your campaign?

9. Learn how to use the internet to your advantage. Start a website and keep it active with a blog. Learn about social networking like Twitter, Facebook, Google +, etc… and how they can work for you. BUT don’t fall into their trap. Too many writers get carried away on these sites and waste too much of their precious writing time as they tweet about the weather or how much they want another cup of coffee. Use these systems in moderation.

10. Write every day. That’s the only way you’re going to finish your story and the next and the next. Plus, writing every day gets you into a routine and forces you to learn self-discipline, something you’ll need once you’re published and on a deadline.

Do you have any other suggestions?

Lynnette Labelle


  1. My suggestion - read books on how to edit. There are many out there, so choose one that fits your style. Then self-edit, being very critical, before you give your work to anyone else to read. I don't like to waste time, mine or other people's. If you want your readers to read your next novel, give them something polished for their first read.

  2. My only suggestion is finding a great editor.

    *Editor that is willing to negotiate; every person situation is different and also get references and see sample of their edits.

    *A editor that is tough but also believes in your novel and the strides you make because as a great editor told me, one day you may accomplish one aspect of writing rules and the next you are stumped on something else its part of the journey *wink*

    * Know that its a relationship built on respect and trust, editing cannot be rushed, publishers, agents will still be around when your book is done, even though you get so anxious and want to query right away, patience is part of the journey that is the first major lesson I learned.

  3. Kristina and Keisha: Great advice. Thanks.

    Katie: I'm glad you liked them.

    Lynnette Labelle

  4. Thank you for the useful advice. I am always reading while writing and I have heard two vastly different opinions on this subject. I find that it keeps my mind sharp and in tune with how writers think. The other group believes that you should never read fiction while involved with your own WIP because it could directly or indirectly interfere with your own writing technique and voice. I appreciate all of the wise advice you shared.


  5. This is wonderful advice. Thank you! I'm having a last read through my manuscript and being very critical. My husband says to let it go, but I know it has to be the best it can be for my readers.

  6. I just read your blog for the first time. It was very informative. I will definetly come back to read again.


  7. Great tips. I've gotten out of the habit of reading in my genre (frankly I'm not sure what that is anymore). I'm planning a blogger break for the express purpose of reading for pleasure.


  8. Melissa: Maybe if you're still trying to find your voice, you might want to be careful to not stick with one author or one genre. To say you should avoid reading fiction because it might influence you is crazy. You want to be subtly reminded how fiction is written. If you're not reading it, how will you stay in touch with this part of your muse? Think of it this way, if you learn a second language and don't pratice it, eventually, it becomes harder and harder to speak/write/think in that language. With writing, you need to practice it by writing but also reading what's written.

    Toyin: Thanks.

    Marta: You're right. You want to polish your manuscript as best you can, but don't get stuck there. At some point, you have to move on and work on something new. Good luck with your ms.

    Vera: Great! Thanks.

    Donna: LOL Start reading and maybe you'll figure out what your genre is.

    Lynnette Labelle