Chip MacGregor

May 30, 2014

Editing: It Takes a Village (A guest blog)


I recently had someone say to me, “My novel needs an edit — but I don’t have the strength to listen to someone bash it.”

Ack! An editor’s job is to help authors readjust, smooth and polish but never to be condescending. The edits are meant to help. And the majority of today’s successful writers use editors and rely on their feedback, grateful for another pair of eyes, an outside viewpoint. It’s important to take your ego, put it in a little box, and forget about it for awhile — especially if you are self-publishing or querying with a manuscript.

Easier said than done, I know. I understand the insecurities that come to light in this situation. I’ve birthed a few of my own book babies. I’ve suffered the angst of waiting for an editor to tell me if my kid is worthless drivel or not. But I early on came to the realization I am not always a clean writer . . . my babies can be messy. I know what I meant to say and that’s how my brain reads it. I’m a terrible self-editor in the long-form. I can spot a homonym or a typo or a repetitive phrase a mile away in anyone’s work but my own.

And, of course, there are the bigger developmental issues to consider. A handful of authors are able to craft a perfectly developed story, from plot to theme to character arc. But in a 360-page document, is it likely there are no sentences that can be worded more succinctly or a scene tweaked for more impact? No subplot that loses the thread? A character with weak motivation?

A book is a living creature, always capable of change . . . growth. It is never finished. Now, I do believe at some point an author must put down her pen and exclaim, “Welp, I’m done.” We’d go crazy if we were in the re-write phase forever. Instead, we need to send our baby out into the world. We’ve given birth and shaped the growth, created a being who can now stand on its own. But is it pretty? Is it smart? We are so close to the project, we can easily lose objectivity.

It takes a village to raise a child, or so the saying goes. As humans, we have human babies and we feed them, discipline them, love them. But when they get big enough, we have to send them into that village. They can’t thrive and flourish if we keep them trapped inside (i.e. Flowers in the Attic). So, suddenly, their development is influenced by a wide array of editors . . . er, I mean, teachers. For instance, Auggie is my eight year old son, but someone else is gonna’ have to teach him advanced algebra (after they’ve taught him basic algebra) and I’m okay with that. They’re still our babies — but others have helped to polish our creation. Granted, that can be difficult to take sometimes, especially when someone from the village tells us our baby has some flaws.

“Ms. Lorincz, I’m going to need you to come in tomorrow after school. Auggie is still telling jokes during quiet time.” So, the teacher doesn’t think my beautiful, smart boy is funny? He thinks my baby is distracting? Clearly that teacher needs to get a sense of humor and find ways to keep Auggie occupied. Because there is nothing wrong with my baby.

But then I have to face facts. My baby needs some help getting back on track. In the bigger picture, I’ve still created a magnificient being — but a being that needs a tweak from the outside, objective world sometimes.

Some writers don’t like outside views on their projects because they believe their work is perfect. If this is you, I’d again suggest you may be too close to your creation to be objective. It’s important to keep in mind you are writing for an audience who will not be reading with your eyes. Other writers (and this is probably most of us), know our creation probably has some weaknesses but we love it so much, and have worked so hard on it, we feel like criticism is akin to someone telling us he despises our kid. Cringe-worthy, gut-wrenching stuff. However, if we can get past our own ego, then we can find someone to give the kid a haircut, someone to give the kid some acne medicine, and someone to teach the kid algebra. That’s what editors are for, helping you to figure out what and where to clean up your snot nosed toddler.

If you are willing to allow others to teach and mold your human child, and listen to authorities when they tell you your human child needs help, why not do the same for your book baby?

Good luck!

Holly Lorincz, an award winning novelist, is the owner of Lorincz Literary Services, a very successful editing and publishing consultation business. Please check out her website at

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  • Ane Mulligan says:

    The first thing I did as a novelist is don rhino skin. I guess I instinctively knew I didn’t know anything. Oh, I knew I was a storyteller, and like your Auggie, I got in trouble for that as a kid. But beyond the gift of storytelling, I knew it needed a lot of “assembly.” My critique partners and I have been together for 11 years and crit in each others’ voices. When you find the right ones, it’s golden!

  • Peter DeHaan says:

    Holly, I love the child analogy! Whether it’s our kids or books, as parents we think they’re the best and brightest ones out there!

    (I’m almost done making the edits you suggested for my book!)

  • Henry McLaughlin says:

    Excellent post, Holly. I know working with an editor on my debut novel made it tighter, improved the plot, removed the sags and made the entire novel better. As I’ve stayed in this writing life, I’ve learned my writing will never be perfect but an editor can get me much closer than I ever could on my own.

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