How to be Edited as a New Author (Or at Any Level, Really…)

by Michael Mohr


A-number one advice for new writers especially: Don’t rush the process. Man oh man. How many writers approach me who think they’re going to hand me their first or second draft of a novel and after one developmental edit they’re going to be done? Far too many. In this new landscape of 21st century ‘everyone’s a writer’ world, the culture has simply been infected with the idea that ‘anyone can do it.’ This isn’t to mock or knock anyone. Believe me. I take every email I receive seriously. But my point is: Respect the craft of writing.

Like anything—plumbing, law, construction, acting—there is much to learn before you can really write a serious novel. Some go to college and do the MFA. Some join a professional workshop. Some simply read constantly and write every day. There is no one right way to become a writer. Mostly I think it’s about drive, ambition, life experience, perseverance. Ambitious, nascent writers will go to writers’ conferences, join critique groups, carve out a daily or several-times-weekly writing discipline. They take it seriously. When they write a novel, they go through half a dozen or more drafts before even considering it anywhere near being “done.”

Referring to my opening paragraph, I’m not saying a writer can’t approach me—or any other editor—early in the stages of their novel-in-progress, or in their career. They can and should. But be aware that when you do, at this early stage, you will most likely be asked—encouraged—to follow up with several developmental edits. This isn’t because I want your money and am trying to squeeze you. Yes, I do editing more or less fulltime, and yes, I need to eat and survive. But, honestly, it’s really all about the fact that serious novels take serious time and care.

Debut novelist Gabriel Tallent (“My Absolute Darling”) took eight years to create the final draft of his book. It took Stephanie Danler many, many years and drafts and hardship to create “Sweetbitter.” Emma Cline took several years writing “The Girls.” My ex neo-Nazi skinhead client (now anti-hate activist), Christian Picciolini, worked on his book, “White American Youth” for years before at last coming to an editor and working with me for a full year before his book was released in early 2018. (Hachette Book Group. He now has an MSNBC TV docu-series airing called Breaking Hate.)

My point? It takes TIME. Be patient. Respect the process and the craft. Don’t rush it. Accept that you’re going to have to spend time and money. No, it’s not as easy as the media may make it seem. Writing a book is like raising a child. Think of it that way. It’ll wake you up in the middle of the night, torturing you. It’ll scream at you when you’re so tired you feel like you can’t go on. It takes finesse and kindness and love and every ounce of your energy and attention and respect.

It’s up to you, writers. You said it, let’s edit.



Guest post contributed by Michael Mohr is a published, Pushcart Prize-nominated writer, former literary agent’s assistant and freelance book editor. His fiction has been published in: Concho River Review; Adelaide Literary Magazine; Bethlehem Writers’ Roundtable; Fiction Magazines; Tincture; and more. His blog pieces have been included in Writers’ Digest, Writer Unboxed, Creative Penn and MASH. A recent editing client accomplishment is a memoir, White American Youth, by Christian Picciolini, a former neo Nazi who changed his life. (Hachette, Dec 26, 2017.) Christian’s MSNBC TV docu-series is airing now (Breaking Hate). Michael edits memoir, adult literary and commercial novels, YA and suspense/thriller. His writing/editing website is



17 thoughts on “How to be Edited as a New Author (Or at Any Level, Really…)

  1. Totally agree with this. When I started writing my novel (at age 11) I had no idea about the drafting process. Even now I’m only on my second draft, but I’m prepared to do as many as necessary to get my work to the highest level.


  2. I agree. For me there is a question of personal pride, namely how would I feel about paying for something which wasn’t as good as it could be? That said, I’ve read a number of novels over time, even by “big” authors which have contained spelling errors and the like (and they will have been through a professional process), so no matter how many iterations you go through there is always a risk of something creeping through. While I’d never claim to be anything other than an amateur writer, I still want to check, check, check and check again to make sure things link up, make sense, don’t have repetition, seem grammatically correct and the spelling is good…and most importantly read as well as I can make it do.

    My first novel, “Baabaric” (which is free until end of 3rd August) took me about four months to get to end of first draft, but another eight to edit and refine until I was happy to publish. Everyone is different though.


  3. So glad to read this article. I have thought myself failing as I labor over my work, while others are cranking out books in a matter of a month or two. But quantity does not always mean quality, as the saying goes.


  4. At least four different editors took a swipe at my first book – one of whom I paid rather well and they all had different ideas about how I should be writing. It was hell. Another good thing for first time writers to keep in mind is to go with your gut and don’t be flattered by the first editor to show an interest. Check the reviews for books they have edited. Read the first few pages on Amazon and see what you think.


  5. I remember my first blog post. I was convinced that this one is so well written. When I revisited it after a few months. I realize how awful it was. And it keeps happening. What appears to be a good writing today will become somewhat low-quality tomorrow.

    Awesome post-Michael! Keep sharing


  6. I agree that writing a book is like raising a child. I’ve done both, and neither feel like the process will EVER be complete.
    Thank you for the tips. I will do my best to be patient.


  7. Not everyone is a writer. Most people, in fact, are not. After ten thousand years of written language, our human brains have not yet assimilated the capacity to read and write.

    In response to Graham’s comment, I think the issue is less a matter of ‘spelling errors and the like’. Certainly, to be a ‘writer pur sang’, one should be able to command the ‘mechanics’ of written language. But the matter is more one of ‘sophistication’: to be a writer, one must be capable of manipulating written language with sophistication, which very few people can do.

    What is not commonly understood is that all writing, at its basis, is the intellectual effort to formulate a logical argument. Even poetry and fiction are based on this principle, for at the most fundamental level, the writer is seeking to persuade the reader to accept his idea or vision of the world, and that idea or vision must not only be logically consistent with itself, but must bear logical verisimilitude to the things in the world with which the written words on the page bear an indexical relation.

    Even after ten thousand years of written language, no human brain has evolved to perform this deep-level cognitive activity with ease. The ability to frame a thorough and sophisticated logical argument in writing—especially one which is couched in the added symbolic complexity of metaphor or fictive analogy—is not given to most people, and the first question an honest editor should ask himself in reviewing a piece of writing is not whether the author can spell, or whether he has good command of grammar, but whether he can actually think. If he cannot think with sophistication, he certainly will not be able to manipulate the abstract symbology of written language with the requisite sophistication to effectively shift his idea or vision out of his own head and into somebody else’s.

    In other words, if you are truly a writer, you learn ‘the mechanics’ of good writing on the job, in the course of learning how to really think, for the first reader to whom you are trying to clearly communicate an idea or vision in words is yourself. And of course, as you say, learning the mechanics of the trade which are entailed in this process of learning how to think takes time and patience. Thanks for posting this necessary article.


  8. SO true! I have 11 manuscripts written, and none of them are good enough to be published. I’ve been learning the craft for years now, and finally, FINALLY started writing a new book that I think has both the premise and the technique to be worthy of being published traditionally. But it’s taken me 9+ years and 11 manuscripts, plus reading at least 20 books on the craft of writing over those years, to get to this point. I don’t know who said it, but there’s a quote I read once that stated your book isn’t even ready for an agent until you’ve gone through 20 edits with it.


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