Here's my second interview with Mette Harrison, YA fantasy author of Tris and Izzie. Learn some of her editing secrets that have helped her polish her own (and other writers' novels) and get them published and go to www.writingsnippets.com to listen to my writer's group podcast interview with her and for a chance to win her book, Tris and Izzie!
How polished should a manuscript be before an author submits it to you for an edit?
To me? Well, I'm not a copyeditor. If you want me to look at your manuscript, I'm not going to make it all shiny and new. I'm going to rip it apart and show you the deeper flaws, so I wouldn't worry about the details.
For another editor or an agent, I would say you want to make your first 50 pages absolutely riveting. I'm surprised at how often people make the mistake of thinking that action is the most riveting. It's not to me, and I think to a lot of others. Character is what makes me care about the action. You need to establish character first. I think a smaller stakes conflict that establishes relationships is most important. That first chapter is usually what ends up getting written last for most professional writers. It was for me in every novel I've done.
What mistakes do you commonly see in manuscripts you edit?
I see a lot of people trying to tell a story that is simply too complex for a first time novel. Changing viewpoints, time frames, and so on. I'm not saying you can't do it, but it might not be the best choice.
The other mistake I see is thinking that the trappings of the novel are what readers care about. It's true in genre and it's just as true in realistic fiction. If you have great description, I don't care. Not until I see the other pieces in place. If you have a cool monster, don't care. A cool weapon? Don't care. A ten-page long explanation of the hereditary system of the kings, I don't care.
I love that more fantasy and science fiction is being done in YA, but I hate that the lessons the sff community has spent fifty years learning about how to do backstory properly have to be reinvented. If I open a book and the first chapter is all backstory, I am finished reading it.
Tips for self-editing?
Let it sit for a while. Honestly, let it sit even before you take it to a writer's group. You want to be able to have some perspective before you start making changes. This is a mistake I make myself because I am too eager to fix it.