Ask Daphne! About Editing

May 16th, 2011 • Kate

MilaKunisfugshoesI didn’t answer this question the other day during my lightning round, since it needed a bit more space of its own. Which it has now, so over to Anne C., who asks:

I know editors at publishing companies ask for re-writes, both great and small, depending on the manuscript. But would you say there is a typical percentage range of changes that authors should expect to make on their novels before publication? For example, are most authors you work with usually asked to change 5% of their original work or closer to 30%? Or nowadays is it simply typos and grammatical errors that are changed? Or does it depend on how busy an editor is and how much time he/she’s willing to spend on rereads?

Also, are publishers much less likely to sign an author if he/she doesn’t have a built-in, pre-existing platform? I know its a bonus for an author, but does NOT having an existing platform actively work against you?

First of all, Anne, let’s call those “re-writes” what they really are: edits. Almost every editor I know wants to get their hands into a manuscript when they acquire it. I wouldn’t say there’s any “typical” range for edits, though — it depends on how tight the manuscript is when it was submitted or how much work the author might have done before turning it in. I suppose you could generalize that most second novels need more editing than first novels, if only because, in most cases, the author spend years polishing the novel that got them a book deal, and may have only had one year after turning in book one to write book two. But that’s a generalization — like the “sophomore slump” that is often talked about in the music industry.

Now, the edits of typos and grammatical errors is usually the province of a copyeditor, who jumps into the process after the editor has basically said, “Great, that’s done.” The copyeditor checks for typos, continuity errors, facts, and precise grammatical points.

For my part, I like to think of it as sort of a funnel. As an agent, I may suggest changes and edits to an author, but they’re often “big picture” edits, although I may really get my hands into a draft. When we sell a manuscript, the editor finesses the draft, first in wide swaths, then down to specifics. After that, the copyeditor makes even more detailed edits. By the end, ideally, the manuscript is a tight, word-perfect, best possible version of itself. Biggest to big to small to tiny.

As for the second half of your question, I think platform matters much more in terms of nonfiction. For novels, many authors develop their “platforms”, or media identities and web presences after they have a book deal. For my part, I’d much rather an author without a blog or website who’s willing to build one, than one who’s way out there, posting private details in a public forum.

Hope that answers your questions!

Image above again courtesy of Go Fug Yourself. I think these heels could have used a little editing themselves! A smaller bow, perhaps?

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5 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About Editing”

  1. Anne C Says:

    Thanks so much for your time on answering. Much appreciated!

  2. Chelsey Says:

    I'd wondered about this, too, particularly the second-novel-needing more editing part. Unsurprised that, like all publishing, everything varies!

  3. Kimberly Says:

    I love the way you explained this. Thank you.

  4. Kate Says:

    Fabulous further response to this question from Diana Peterfreund on her blog, which includes this gem:

    Editors are there to make your books better.

    Read it.

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