You’ve just completed your manuscript: congratulations! You’ve worked crazy hard for months, possibly years, writing and rewriting and analyzing every aspect of your book. It’s close to you, it’s basically your child. All you want is a fresh set of eyes to give it a quick lookover for anything you might have missed before you get it out and published. It’s natural to be impatient once the manuscript’s done. After all, you’ve worked so hard on it.
So, you send it out to a publishing house or an editor. You wait impatiently for a response, checking your email more times than you’re willing to admit. It’ll be fine though, you assure yourself. After all, you poured your heart and soul into this. Surely there wasn’t much to change. And then, one day, you hear that ding of the email notification you’ve been waiting for. You eagerly skim the email (you’ll get back to it in a bit) and go straight for the attachment, excitement and trepidation warring inside you. You drum your fingers impatiently on the keyboard as you wait for the attachment to load.
And then it opens. You start scrolling down it eagerly, and slowly your excitement gives way to a tinge of horror. There’s a lot more red than you expected to see. Surely, it wasn’t that bad.
Lesson 1 on Getting Your Work Edited: You’re probably going to hate it.
It’s actually really not that bad—mostly just a handful of errors that were inevitably repeated several times in such a lengthy work—but you don’t know that yet. You’re stuck somewhere between confusion and mortification, a combination that generally leads to anger. You are, after all, seeing a lot of red. You’ve never heard about how many edits authors usually get on their first drafts, but surely it’s less than this? Salman Rushdie never talked about the mortification of not being perfect. You know J.K. Rowling was rejected by publishers but that’s because they were idiots, right? Not that you’re comparing yourself to Salman Rushdie or J.K. Rowling, but surely they’d have spoken about it if they’d received so many edits? You can’t help the twinge of annoyance that zips through you.
Lesson 2: Your work will always be edited more closely than you expected.
Contrarily, maybe you open the attachment. Maybe it’s still got more red than you expected. But instead of annoyance, you feel your heart drop to your stomach. You have a sudden wild fear that maybe the nay-sayers were right after all (they’re not). Maybe you really aren’t cut out to be a writer (you are). You feel like you can’t breathe and your hands shake as you scroll down the page. Ohgodohgodohgod.
However you react, it’s likely only hours later that you’re actually able to read the comments. You find that they’re not so bad, mostly just asking for more context. You can do that. You realize the red lines are generally commas and prepositions being moved to the right place. You realize you’re actually doing fine. You call your editor about questions you have. They’re waiting on the other side, always happy to answer any and all questions you may have.
Lesson 3: Editors just want your book to be the best that it can be.
An editor’s job is to be critical, not judgmental. They’re professionals, hired because they’re good at spotting errors, analyzing structures, and asking questions. Plus, they’re a fresh set of eyes. You’ve spent so long thinking about and writing your novel that you cannot look at it objectively. When you’ve thought about a plot so deeply for so long, you can’t always tell where your completely unfamiliar reader may get confused. That’s where your editor comes in. They’re there for you, they’re invested in your work, and they just want to make sure it’s as perfect as it can possibly get before it’s published. Is the entire process often daunting? Yes. Does your manuscript sometimes go back and forth a few times (extremely annoying when you just want it to be out there)? Yes. But is it because your editor is feeling sadistic? No. It’s because, no matter how minor the error, they need your go-ahead. This is your book, and yours alone. They want you to review every detail, discuss it with them if you wish, and make the decision. They’re only there to help.
Lesson 4: Editing is not one-sided criticism; it’s a conversation.
Treating your entire editorial process as an adventure. You’re sending your manuscript out into the world, don’t expect it to come back unscathed. Your editor is your manuscript’s guide. It’s there to make sure it’s as ready as it possibly can be for when it comes up for publishing. But it’s not a one-sided discussion. Editors aren’t perfect, and yes, it is perfectly possible that they did not understand what you meant and left an unnecessary comment about it. Talk to them. Ask them why they made the changes they did, if you want to. If something is important to you, if you disagree with their suggestions, tell them; explain why it’s important. Usually, it’s just about getting the phrasing exactly right to convey what you want. Don’t be disheartened by the red of the edits. Take them as a challenge, and have fun with the process. Be assured, when you finally see the finished product—when you finally hold your own book in your hands—it will be more than worth it.
Rheea Rodrigues Mukherjee is the author of The Body Myth (Unnamed Press /Penguin India 2019) which was shortlisted for the Tata Literature Live First Book Award. Her work has been published and featured in Scroll.in, Southern Humanities Review, Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, Vogue India, Out of Print, TBLM, and Bengal Lights, among others. She co-founded Bangalore Writers Workshop in 2012 and currently co-runs Write Leela Write, a Design and Content Laboratory in Bangalore, India. Rheea has an MFA in creative writing from California College of the Arts.