How do you know when your book is ready to go to an editor?

One of the most common questions we get on sales calls, and even on our pre-edit consultations, is: ‘How do I know if my book is ready to go to an editor?’

It’s a nerve-wracking time. In many cases, your editor is the first person who will see your book and, until you get their feedback, it’s hard to know whether what you’ve written is any good. You’re proud of your effort, but does that mean it’s decent? Or you can see everything that needs fixing – are you being too hard on yourself, or do you just have an accurate view of your book’s flaws?

Having worked with over 150 authors now, I’ve found that your book is ready to go to an editor once you’ve hit one of two points:

  1. You’ve gotten your book to the best possible state you can.
  2. You’ve stopped making meaningful progress.

Option 1: Get it in the best possible condition you can

You got your 30,000-50,000 words over a few weeks or months. Then you let your book sit before revisiting it. You reviewed everything, filled in the gaps, reorganising content where you could, and cutting back the bits that (when you were being honest with yourself) you knew weren’t that good.

After months of writing, tweaking and polishing, your draft is now a sparkling jewel. At least, you know it’s as good as you can get it on your own.

This is the perfect time to send your book to an editor. The better the book you send to your editor, the better the edited book you’ll get back.

The better the book you send to your editor, the better the edited book you’ll get back. Click To Tweet

While we can work with very rough books (in fact, you could argue that this is our specialty), this usually means that the edit we send back will still be a bit rough. Some chapters will read perfectly, while others will have big holes that need to be filled, and even bullet-point notes from us to guide your writing.

In some cases, your edited book might feel more like a skeleton than a completed draft.

If your book is already in good condition, on the other hand, even if we make significant changes to the structure and content, the big difference is that all the major pieces are usually already there. This means that the edit we send back will read like a completed book (though we’ll still make suggestions about where you could flesh things out in more detail, or make your argument more persuasive).

Option 2: Send it when you stop making meaningful progress

You’re banging your head against a wall.  You did your 30,000-50,000 words and, while you got the words out, you know they’re not great. You know they need work. You just don’t know how to make them better.

You’ve tried looking at your book time and time again, but you don’t know what to do about it. You open the document every few days and find yourself staring at a page of text, or adding flowery sentences or waffle that you know doesn’t add much value.

Ultimately, you’ve stopped making meaningful progress.

What do I mean by ‘meaningful progress’? Meaningful progress is progress that makes a difference (ideally an improvement!) to your book. It’s realising that a point would be much stronger if you shared that client example to demonstrate it, then adding that example in. It’s discovering that you’ve written about goal setting in three separate chapters, and trying to move them all to the same chapter. It’s realising that a chapter is nothing but waffle, and deciding to delete it.

Unfortunately, when you get too close to your work, it’s hard to see what might make a meaningful difference. You know something’s off, but because you aren’t sure what it is, you start doing anything, just in case it might improve things.

You move around sentences. You expand paragraphs, but you do it without adding any new information. You think that maybe if you copied and pasted an article or an interview into your book, that would add more depth.

The problem with most of these changes is that they don’t add value, they lower the quality of your book as a whole and, when you finally send your book to your editor, they will all get cut anyway.

Instead, consider sending your book to an editor as soon as you hit that brick wall.

If you aren’t making meaningful progress, this is where a good structural editor can help. A structural editor will discuss your goals for the book, who your readers are and any concerns you have about what you’ve written, then they will pull your book apart and put it back together in a way that helps achieve those goals, targets your readers’ needs and addresses those concerns.

While what you get back might be a bit light on content, your editor will send it back with a new, clean structure and concrete guidance about what you need to add. Then, rather than going around in circles (or thinking that, if you keep at it, your head will eventually break through that wall), you’ll know exactly what you need to do to turn your book into a great one.

Where’s your book?

Where are you and your book right now? Share your thoughts in the comments, and I’d be happy to diagnose whether you’re ready to start the editing process.

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