What do Editors Look for?

Many authors want to sell the rights to the book they’ve written to a publisher. Perhaps these authors don’t realize their writing is intellectual property and is as valuable as their homes (real property) or their cars or electronics (personal property).

Once you sell your home or your car, it’s not yours anymore to use as you please. And so it is with intellectual property that you’ve sold–it’s not yours to use any longer as you see fit.

Yet, authors persist in wanting to sell their work for a small advance (if any advance at all) against sales. If the advance isn’t paid back, that advance dollar amount (typically something under $5,000) is all  the author gets for all the work put into writing the book.

Yet, I think it’s important to help writers understand the publishing business, so here’s what editors look for.

  • How tightly is the work written? That is, are there superfluous words (example: the level of the water rose so high it flooded should be changed to the water rose to flood stage).
  • Did the writer select the best word? What makes one word better than another? Ask if the word is right for the intended audience, if the word makes the idea clear for the reader, or if the word is used often by other good writers. (Example: Facilitate could be changed to help.)
  • How long are the sentences? Shorter sentences appeal to readers. Shorten sentences by breaking a long sentence into two shorter ones, by cutting unnecessary words (or phrases), and by using appropriate punctuation.
  • Did the writer write in active voice? Since I’ve already written on this, I’ll move on except to say restrict using passive voice to those times you want to leave the subject (person taking that action) out. That’s exactly why government, business, and academia use passive voice as much as they do–no ownership regarding action taken.
  • Is the author consistent? To be inconsistent is to be sloppy–if you write judgement in one place and judgment in another, you’re showing the editor your writing is sloppy and just maybe your research follows the same pattern. If inconsistency is your curse, create a style sheet and keep it handy when you write. Note your spelling preferences. Note other things you do such as use %, instead of percent.

Now that you know what editors look for, you’re ready to edit yourself first. Happy writing!

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