They walk in, wide-eyed, selling the virtues of their writing. And that’s great. They should believe in their work. But there’re some things that we commonly hear that do concern us.
The top three are …
- 3. ‘You don’t get it.’
Like it went right over our heads, or we just didn’t understand, or just aren’t bright enough. Sometimes, it feels like the only reason authors submit for an assessment is so they can be told how great they are.
We look at manuscripts clinically, breaking them down for structure, plot, characters, voice, pacing, content, cohesiveness, and a whole range of criteria (depending on whether the work is fiction or nonfiction). We don’t cite things on a whim, or just to fill out the white space in an assessment and pad out our response. It’s because we genuinely believe something in the piece needs to be considered and reconsidered.
An example is a story we worked on years ago. Four editors looked at it and didn’t get a vital plot point, so I queried it with the author. Indignantly, he defended the story, and said he was sure his readers would get it. I told him if four of us didn’t get it, it’s unlikely a lot of his readers would, too.
You can take pride in your work, but once you’re sending it out into the world, you need to be brutally honest about whether it’s able to stand on its own, because you’re not going to be around to defend it or explain things.
2. ‘It doesn’t need to be edited.’
This is often qualified with:
- ’My whole family read it!’
’My partner read it.’
‘My friend read it, and they’re an English teacher.’
‘My neighbour read it, and they’re an editor.’
‘I’ve gone over it so many times.’
We have been told so often something doesn’t need editing, and yet have been able to open to a random page and find errors.
You will be the worst editor of your own work. Because you’re so familiar with it, you’re reading it as you’re expecting it to sound, rather than picking up visual cues (e.g. a spelling error, a misplaced comma). People who have experience in writing, English, or are just well-read, can only pick up as much as they know. Also, often they’re reading it with a reader’s eye (to be entertained and/or educated), rather than an editor’s eye (to seek out and identify issues).
Even a lot of people professing to be editors are just students who are studying, or writers who know the basics. A friend was looking for an independent editor and trialled three of them with a sample chapter. She then showed me what they’d done. Their work was good, but there were still oversights, or times they’d intruded on the text and rewritten it.
If you’re going to send your work out into the world, it needs to be pristine. The moment an error that would’ve been picked up in editing jumps out at a reader, you’ve lost them.
Find a good editor.
1. ‘It’s going to be a bestseller.’
Your story might be compelling, it might have an amazing plot, mesmerising characters, and be beautifully written; it might be a brilliant self-help/business/life-coaching book full of genius and innovation; it might be a nonfiction book that’s an original and captivating insight into some topic or other and every one of your friends might love it – whatever reasons you believe are going to make your book stand out and will compel readers to flock to it, you have to realise that, ultimately, you’re left with one truth: there’s no guarantee it’s going to be a bestseller.
And do you know why?
Because nobody knows what’s going to be a bestseller. Commercial publishers perform market analyses and yet still pass up books that become spectacular hits elsewhere (e.g. Harry Potter), and spend fortunes on signing books they think will be hits that then flop.
You can study the market, you can (believe you) have a good idea what it should do, but you can’t predict the market. You might as well try predicting what’s the next cat video to go viral on YouTube.
We all want to believe we’ll be special, we’ll be the one, our book will be a hit – sometimes, we’re so certain of these things we feel like we can will them into existence, but the truth is a lot of writers feel this way.
Make sure you also keep your perspective.