Chip MacGregor

October 7, 2015

Editing for Authors: Part 8, Editing for a Specific Audience


brick green no smile b:wWelcome back to Editing for Authors, the series where I surprise myself every week by having something else to say on the subject!

I’m getting ready to wrap up the series, but before I do I wanted to talk briefly about a type of editing that differs a little from the rest of the methods we’ve been discussing but is still worth having in your “editor toolbelt,” and that is the ability to edit your manuscript with a specific audience in mind. This type of editing is different in that, while the goal of the majority of editing techniques covered so far is to make the manuscript objectively better, your goal in editing for a specific audience is usually to make the manuscript more marketable/salable to that particular audience, be it an editor/publishing house or the reader, whether or not that actually makes it a “better” book.

Let me start with the disclaimer that I obviously never advocate changing your book or compromising your message just for the sake of being more commercial or more “trendy” and that if you feel deeply convicted that certain content belongs or doesn’t belong in your book you should follow that conviction and trust that if it’s supposed to be published it will find the right publisher, etc., etc. Now that that’s out of the way, there may be times when you will want to edit your manuscript with a specific audience in mind, and yes, this may mean toning down certain elements or adding or removing others, as well as making different style or formatting choices than you otherwise might, even if there’s nothing objectively “wrong” with yours.

This type of editing is done to make your manuscript more appealing to a specific audience– in cases where you know that a certain publisher or imprint you’re submitting to has specific guidelines for length or content, it only makes sense to edit your manuscript with those guidelines in mind so as to provide that publisher with as few reasons to say “no” as possible. If you’re submitting to a line or a house that has extremely specific rules about content and length, you’re much more likely to sell a manuscript that has already been edited to meet these than you are to sell one that would require a significant investment of an editor’s time on the part of the publishing house.

This type of editing isn’t practical for every author or every submission– you’re going to go crazy trying to tailor your entire manuscript for each specific editor you pitch to (or your agent is pitching to for you), and many imprints don’t have specific enough guidelines for length or content for it to make a huge difference whether your manuscript was edited specifically for that house or not. That said, if you are pitching to a line or an imprint with very clear content guidelines or clearly established length/structure framework, it might be worth your time to research those house-or-line-specific guidelines and tweak your manuscript so it fits, even if you’ll only submit that version of the manuscript to that one house. Most authors who have found success in long-term relationships with publishing houses have done so due to their ability to really get inside the voice and brand of the imprint they’re writing for (or, to be more accurate, due to the happy intersection of their voice and brand as a writer with that of the publishing house). If you’re submitting to a house that you really feel passionate about working with and that you really feel would be a great fit for your books and your author brand, it makes sense to cast your editing eye over your manuscript with that house’s guidelines in mind. Here are some things to consider when editing for a specific publisher/imprint:

  • Does the line you’re submitting to have a strict length requirement? Most category romance has a very specific length requirement that differs slightly from line to line– the historical line word count may be a little longer than the contemporary line word count which is a little shorter than the contemporary romantic suspense line word count– etc. This is the length these lines are designed for, the length their readers expect, and the length of manuscripts they buy, so, yes, an extra 5000 words really might make the difference between a manuscript’s being accepted or not.
  • Does the line or house you’re submitting to have content guidelines? Obviously, if you’re submitting to a CBA house there are going to be varying limits to the amount/intensity of language and immoral behavior you can include in a manuscript– some houses are fine with mild language or characters who enjoy a drink on occasion, while others don’t even publish books containing “substitute” cursing or make-out scenes. (And, while rare, the reverse can sometimes be true– certain category romance lines require there to be a minimum number of sex scenes in a book– and no, what I’m saying here is not “go add more sex scenes to your book.”)
  • Does the line have formatting or structural norms you should be following? If you’re submitting to a certain imprint or line, get ahold of three or four of the line’s most recent releases and see if you notice any formatting or structural similarities you could apply to your own manuscript– do all of the recently published works from a house stick to one POV per chapter? Maybe you should, too. Do any of the romance novels in a line you want to submit to begin with a prologue? Maybe yours shouldn’t, either.

While you don’t want to undertake major plastic surgery on your book just so that it will fit the standards of one specific editor who may or may not take a second look at it, it doesn’t hurt to make a few nips and tucks to make it a little more compatible with your dream publisher.

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  • Laura Droege says:

    This series on editing has been great, Erin. I’m not ready to edit my work-in-progress, but I am getting ready to pitch my third novel at an upcoming conference, and I need to edit, edit, edit. I also plan on looking back at previous posts on pitching; I need all the advice I can get.

  • Lelia Rose Foreman says:

    Heh, I just dealt with that specific issue. A character, the hero’s mother, said, “She should have been a boy.” indicating the girl’s boldness, activity level, and risk-taking were wearing her down. All the older critiquers read that, understood what I meant, and moved on. A much younger critiquer brought up transgender issues. What? Nowhere in the entire book do I bring up transgender issues. As we discussed this, I realized that for my intended audience of teens, transgender and sexually-defined roles were hot-button issues. This would cause an uproar and totally derail the story for no purpose of mine. So I changed the line.

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