writing tool for writers seeking book doctors and manuscript editors to learn how to be publishedwriting2sell logo for writers seeking book doctors and manuscript editors to learn how to be publishedwriting equipment for writers seeking book doctors and manuscript editors to learn how to be published
Stephen King's first editor can be YOUR editor, too!




You’re proud of your finished novel. You’ve objectively compared the quality of your writing to that of several best-selling authors and are convinced that it’s equal to, or even better than, some. Your beta readers have given you glowing reviews, and your critique group is solidly behind you. Your confidence is high.

You submit your novel to a few literary agents and, shockingly, your manuscript is rejected with only vague comments like “This isn’t quite what we’re looking for” or “This is close, but not there yet.” Unfortunately, this experience is quite common.

The first topic of discussion in “The Five Biggest Mistakes of Novelists Seeking Commercial Publication” is assuming that good writing alone is the key to commercial publisher acceptance. If your manuscript reflects excellent writing skills, what else could publishers possibly want?

Beautiful writing alone can be ineffective. As Stephen King himself once said, “Book-buyers aren’t attracted, by and large, by the literary merits of a novel; book-buyers want a good story . . .”

Your beta readers and critique group are blind to the wishes of commercial publishers. They don’t know any more about it than you do. Yes, they can likely recognize good writing, but that’s about all, and again, good writing alone won’t get you published. You’ll need a professional editor with commercial publishing experience to tell you what your manuscript may be lacking.


Effectively executed fiction must be focused, relevant, and meaningful to the reader. It should function much like a chef’s recipe—it must contain the right ingredients, of the right measure, mixed at the appropriate time.

A great recipe can flop; so can a beautifully written novel. The key ingredients of a first novel are an interesting character with an interesting problem, and publishers want both to be presented in certain ways. A well written novel must also be well crafted.

An effective novel must be directed, like a movie. An author needs to know how to focus the story, determine which scenes should be cut and which should be expanded, which character should dominate the story, and perhaps even if any characters should be minimized or eliminated.

As an author, you’re an entertainer. You don’t perform on a screen or a stage; you perform on pages. You won’t impress readers with the quality of your writing alone. Effective execution of story progression and proper pacing is a must.


If you were pursuing any other profession, you would likely attend college to master the concepts. Approach a manuscript edit as an educational experience. Consider the cost of an edit as tuition. Study your editorial results for assurance that you won’t make the same mistakes again.

If you don’t plan to perform a thorough rewrite following an edit, however, don’t waste your money on one. Making changes to your manuscript from the markings of an edit alone won’t get you very far. Issues such as viewpoint violations, plot inconsistencies, faulty motivation, or too many characters are not quickly and easily resolved, as are many other potential major problems.

Your focus following an edit should be rewriting your manuscript, not just making corrections.


The best editors are in high demand and can be selective in terms of whom they choose to work with. If you’re serious about your future as a writer, you’ll want to maximize the value of your editorial experience by finding the most qualified editor. If this editor has a backlog of work, it’s worth the wait.

Reflect an element of professionalism when you approach an editor. Never present a manuscript that has not been rewritten, thoroughly proofread, and SpellChecked. Make your work the very best that it can be before allowing anyone else to see it, especially anyone connected with the publishing industry.

When you start your online search for editors, you’ll be swamped with possibilities. How do you separate the good from the bad and find the best editor for you?


The most important criteria in your search for editorial services is the level of commercial publishing experience of the editors you’re considering. Only those with extensive commercial editing experience can see your work as literary agents and publishers will.

No matter how impressive a potential editor’s resume might seem, if commercial editing experience is missing, go elsewhere.


Among qualified editors you’ll find various approaches to editing. Some may make minor modifications to your manuscript while others point out issues for you to address on your own to teach you how to become self-reliant as an author. Which do you need?

Both have merit. If you view your writing interest as temporary and feel that you have only one book in you, hire an editor who is more hands-on and will do some of the work for you.

If you view your interest long-term and hope to build a career as a writer, you need an editor whose approach will teach you how to meet the needs of publishers.


Of course not. At least two major factors lie beyond the editor’s control—the quality of your rewrite and the marketplace. Your editor will tell you what your manuscript needs, then it’s up to you to effectively make changes. Also, the market is unpredictable. A perfectly written manuscript could still be beyond the needs of major commercial publishers. Times are constantly changing, as do the interests of readers.


FALSE / MISLEADING CREDENTIALS – You’re paying for an editor’s level of expertise attained through actual commercial experience. Verify his/her credentials. Unfortunately, some people are known to fabricate their backgrounds.

MISREPRESENTATION -- Watch out for editors who attract business based upon their own impressive credentials, but then sub-contract the edit to far less qualified individuals. Ask a potential editor if he/she actually performs the work.

SPECIFIC REFERRALS -- If anyone seems to be steering you heavily toward a particular editor, he/she may be receiving referral fees, and steering you toward the editor in question may benefit him/her more than you. It's safer to find your own editor.

UNIVERSAL QUALIFICATIONS -- No one is qualified to professionally edit everything. An honest editor should be willing to admit when something lies beyond his/her level of expertise.

SAMPLE EDITS – Many well-meaning websites and publications suggest that you get a sample edit prior to hiring an editor. I wholeheartedly disagree. To find out why sample edits can be misleading, see the Frequently Asked Questions on my website, www.manuscriptcritique.com/faq.htm


Take your time and make the right choice of editors. It could likely be the most important decision of your writing career.


Help and Advice For Unpublished Writers

The Five Biggest Mistakes of Those Who Self-Publish

The Five Biggest Mistakes of Novelists Seeking Commercial Publication

Basic Manuscript Standards

Manuscript Format Specifications