In part 1 of putting your reader first, we discussed three questions you can ask yourself to help keep your readers’ needs top of mind during the writing process. But the truth is, you need to carry that mindset into the editing process as well, which is what we will cover here in part 2. During the writing process, it’s just you and the keyboard, banging out beautiful words and maybe you found it simple to adjust your mindset. But in the editing process, you are inviting other people to help get your manuscript to the next level. Which means you now have other people’s opinions and ideas surrounding your newborn piece of art. Nervous? That’s understandable. But don’t let nerves paralyze you from receiving and acting on crucial feedback to make your manuscript shine.
Where I find that authors get into trouble is thinking that sending their MS off to the editor is like leaving an apple pie on their doorstep, perfect and ready to be eaten. What you are really doing is inviting them into your kitchen so they can critique your crust and adjust the spices in your filling. Sending your manuscript to the editor is not the end of the process for you; it’s really the beginning. Keep in mind though, there are different types of editing and each one serves a different purpose. I talk about the purposes of each type of editing here.
So prepare yourself mentally: can you be willing to take their suggestions? Can you humble yourself enough to at least listen to their professional opinion, even if you end up going a different direction with character development, the arrangement of chapters, or “darling” details that are special to you?
As you prepare yourself mentally for the editing process, here are three things to consider to help shape a “Reader First” mindset.
1. Stay humble about your message
I edit quite a bit of material in the faith-based space and one of the disappointing things I see with new Christian authors is an arrogance about their message “because God gave it to them.” If you are a faith-based writer, the phrase “God gave me this book” is not a free pass on receiving feedback and edits on your manuscript. Trust me, God believes in editing. Specifically, if you are a Christian author, I would encourage you to recognize that you are being used as a channel to encourage and edify the body of Christ with a message from God; you are not the one being praised.
It can be tough to keep that in perspective though when you’re in the midst of writing and editing your book. To keep me grounded in my own work, I return to my “mission verse” often:
The Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed. The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears; I have not been rebellious, I have not turned away.Isaiah 50:4–5
The Sovereign Lord gives…He awakens me…He opens my ears…All of this language speaks of a great Initiator other than myself. Instead, my part is to listen and to obey; to receive and not turn away; to share what God has laid on my heart yes, but to do so humbly and to receive the help and guidance of other writers and editors that God has gifted with insight that I need. There may be one name on the front of the book, but a whole team of people stands behind that name. It’s a group effort.
Whether you write in the faith-based space or not, the truth is that most of the books that you love as a reader have undergone significant changes because of the “group effort.” You just may not realize it.
2. Stay humble about your edits
In her book The Art of Slow Writing, author Louise DeSalvo makes this observation:
None of my books and none of my friends’ books have been published without considerable changes. So, if seasoned writers take editorial advice, and beginning writers seem less willing, I think one reason is because beginning writers don’t know many changes published writers must make to their work because of editorial input. After meeting with their editors, I’ve often heard well-known writers say, “I have to rewrite the whole thing,” or “I have to rethink the way I present the central character,” or “I realize the structure of the book isn’t working.” These writers listen and make fundamental, large-scale changes in the works they’ve labored over for years. What they thought was the end of the process was, in fact, the beginning of yet another round of work.The Art of Slow Writing, Chapter 26 “Writing as Collaboration”
In the editing process, you’ll probably be asked to reexamine tough points of your book, even things you hold strongly to because of feedback from your editor(s) and/or beta readers. I would encourage you to stay humble and keep your ears open.
Author Krissi Dallas shares how she did just that after listening to her beta readers:
Contrary to many popular authors who write in the teen and young adult genre, I actually consider my teen audience first in everything that I write. While I know a lot of adults read teen books and are comfortable with varying levels of romantic or violent content, they are not my primary audience. I want my teen readers to connect to my stories FIRST in safe and healthy ways. It’s also hugely important to me that teachers, librarians, parents (and other adults who have responsibility or influence in young people’s lives) have books they are comfortable recommending to others without feeling like they have to disclaim content. That’s why I always let my books go through both teenage beta readers and parents-of-teens beta readers and I really listen to their feedback.
In FIRETRAP, the fifth book of my Phantom Island series releasing this month, I made some important changes after consulting with some teen girls between the ages of 13 and 16…one of them was over a curse word. To be clear, there are no curse words in my books. But in this new installment, the characters are older and there was a particularly major event that occurred. As a writer, I felt like in a real situation like that, a very strong word would have slipped out of an 18-year-old character’s mouth. It was the ONLY curse word in five books, but I just couldn’t decide if it should stay or go. I tested it out first on my teen girls and they very honestly said that it was a little jolting and even though it was probably true to life, they liked having a series they could recommend to their friends and their younger siblings without worrying over language. I agreed and changed it. Of course, then it took us a while to find the RIGHT true-to-life reaction from that character, but we eventually did, and I think it works even better! Avoiding curse words makes me try harder at creative dialogue and storytelling.
All in all, I feel very strongly that one of the most important revision steps I follow before I finalize a book is to go back through and read specifically with my audience in mind and then consult a selection of beta readers from that audience. I ALWAYS end up making changes from that step of the process and I’m so glad I do!
3. Communicate with your editor
But let’s be real. At some point, a beta reader or editor will make a suggested edit that you. do. not. like. For whatever reason, it crosses an internal boundary and you have a choice to make. Do you stick with your original version? Maybe. Or do you trust the professional instinct of your editor? Maybe. Whichever you choose, if a proposed change is producing that much inner turmoil, open a dialogue with your editor. Ask what prompted that suggestion. Ask them to share similar changes in other manuscripts. Ask if you can have some time to think about it. Ask for a compromise. But whatever you do, do not ignore a big suggested edit, or a comment that relates to providing more clarity or context for your reader and do not change it back without first dialoguing with your editor. It’s unprofessional to ignore the time and effort your editor put in. Yes, you can probably make the final call as the author, but remember it’s a team effort.
Keeping your reader first is a journey that all authors are on and each project will present different challenges on this front. But stick with it. Keep your ears open and stay humble about your work. Changes and edits can seem scary, but you just may be surprised at the improvements they lead to in your work. Like I said in the first post, writing a book is HARD WORK. Editing a book is HARD WORK. But your readers will thank you by not putting your down your book until they’ve finished it.
Worth the effort? I think so.