Publishing Myths: The Perfect Manuscript

We often talk about red flags in query letters, including guarantees that the work will be a “bestseller” and make everyone involved buckets of money. But whereas your book becoming a bestseller is within the realm of possibility (despite the odds), there’s another claim we see that is unequivocally erroneous: the manuscript is “final”, with no editorial required.

We understand the temptation to claim that your work is a polished product, making it easier for agents and editors to say “yes” to reviewing for representation and publication. Unfortunately, this assertion has the opposite effect, signalling that you haven’t done your research on the business of publishing, and suggesting an overall lack of professionalism. Every manuscript needs editing. Period.

In this latest post in our myth-busting series, we look at the ubiquity of editorial in the publishing process.

When you are querying, you do want to send the most flawless draft possible, and this will have already meant many, many drafts, incorporating feedback from beta readers, critique partners, and professional editors. You will then likely do at least one round of revisions with an agent before submitting to editors, and if your manuscript gets picked up for publication, you’ll do a minimum of three additional sets of editorial: substantive, line- and copyedit, and proofs. None of the books you see on shelves bypassed revisions. One of the key reasons to traditionally publish is for the work to benefit from this process, making it the best book it can be!

When we think of editorial myths in publishing, Stephanie Myers’s Twilight immediately comes to mind. It has been suggested that the book wasn’t subjected to rigorous revisions, only spending two weeks with the agent from signature to submission. But having paid $750K for three books, we assure you, the publisher did invest heavily in the editorial process, especially in terms of trimming the length by cutting scenes.

New York Times bestselling author Kristin Cashore posted an insightful blog on her editorial process for Bitterblue, including the heart-stopping moment when her editor suggested she throw out her manuscript and start again from scratch. Sometimes, in all of those revisions, the writing can become alternately overwrought or disjointed, and starting with a fresh page or screen can lead to a more cohesive draft. Even the most accomplished, acclaimed, and lucrative authors are subject to multiple drafts of each new manuscript.

There are many examples of classic books where the first draft was completely scrapped, from William Golding’s Lord of the Flies to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Sometimes you have to be brave and “kill your darlings” as the expression goes. It can be difficult to decide whether it’s time to edit or shred it when it comes to a manuscript, but the important thing to remember is that there will always be another draft until the book is on shelves (and even then, many published authors wish they could go back and make changes!).

As you work on each successive draft of your manuscript, know that you are part of a necessary and eternal tradition of editorial in publishing—that you are in good company with all other writers—and that you will continue to grow in your craft with each revision.

The “perfect” manuscript is a myth, but we can help you polish your work! Please reach out at any stage of your editorial process for a consultation. Or sign up for one of our services or workshops!

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