Just Because I’m an Editor, Doesn’t Mean I Have Thick Skin

“So this is what it’s like for my editing clients,” I thought as I stared at the 18 pages of notes from my editor. A little less than two of those pages summarized the “positives” of my book.

But we authors don’t send our manuscripts to editors to receive a document of praise in return. Nope, the editing process is self-inflicted torture that — if we can live through it — somehow results in increased determination, strength, and (hopefully) storytelling.

So You Want Your Manuscript Edited

Handing over our literary babies to be scrutinized is such a strange a mixture of denial and harsh awareness. We like to think our manuscripts are perfect. We can’t bear to receive a single harsh comment. And yet, somehow we know it’s probably lightyears away from perfection and it will never get there without those harsh comments.

I’ll admit, as I waited two weeks to get A Time to Die back from one of the best editors in the industry, I’d secretly hoped she’d say, “There’s really not much work to do. Your writing, story, and characters are pretty close to perfect.” And yet, at the same time, I would have been furious to receive that response.

Because I know it’s not perfect.

Even after I spend the next month rewriting what I deem needs rewriting, it still won’t be perfect. It will never be perfect because I’m not God. But editors can help us writers get it pretty darn close to perfect…as long as we’re willing to bare our backs to the editorial whip.

Right now I sound pretty strong, don’t I? Like I eat red pens for breakfast. Well, let me set you straight.

Before I even opened the document of editorial comments, I told myself, “Alright, Nadine. You’re not going to like this. No amount of praise is going to make this easy.” And I dedicated the next two days to an emotional meltdown.

I didn’t edit. I didn’t write. I didn’t read. Instead, I went on a road trip to a concert with my little sister where I’d be forced to snack on chocolate and not think about my book.

Two days wasn’t enough, but it was all the time I had for a meltdown. It’s now been five days and I’m slowly climbing back onto the office chair. I brainstorm until I feel myself despairing and then I switch to something else. The pattern isn’t flawless, but it’s keeping me sane and determined.


During this process, I’ve thought a lot about my editing clients. Often times I feel helpless sending back a document of edits because I know, no matter how much I love a client’s story and gush about the characters, many of my words will hurt. Even if I included a manual on How to Cope with Post-Edit Blues, it’s still up to the author to push through.

The best I can do is to blog and say, “I’ve been there! I’ve been in your shoes! I’m there right now and I don’t like it one bit. But I’m on your side, even as I stain your hard-worked pages with red. I’m on your side.”

I’m on your side, friends. We are a team — writers and editors — to help refine these nuggets of gold we slip onto bookshelves. So push through. Cry. Eat that chocolate. Let your mom tell you, “Your story is still great, honey,” (and believe her.) But never quit.

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials [*cough* writing *cough*] so that the tested genuineness of your faith — more precious than gold that perishes through it has been tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:6-7)


Have you ever had your manuscript edited? If so, share a little about your reaction and editing process. If not, do you plan to get it edited someday?


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About Nadine Brandes

Nadine Brandes is an adventurer, fusing authentic faith with bold imagination. She never received her Hogwarts letter, but rest assured she’s no Muggle (and would have been in Ravenclaw House, thank you very much.) This Harry Potter super-nerd has been known to eat an entire package of Oreos (family size) by herself, and watches Fiddler on the Roof at least once a year. She writes about brave living, finding purpose, and other worlds soaked in imagination. Her dystopian trilogy (The Out of Time Series) challenged her to pursue shalom, which is now her favorite word (followed closely by bumbershoot.) When Nadine’s not taste-testing a new chai or editing fantasy novels, she and her knight-in-shining armor (nickname: “hubby”) are out pursuing adventures.
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  1. Nadine: You edited my YA novel draft and did a very good job. While there was a little pain and anguish, I found your comments sound and constructive. As with an earlier project, I took the comments and suggestions and made the story better and stronger. I didn’t take all your suggestions, as I discovered my own solutions. There was enough distance between the sending to you and the getting back that I was able to take a more objective look at things.

    Or, it could be that my skin is pretty thick from the years of print journalism and being on both sides of the fence.

    • Guy: I’m so glad to hear it! And I’m actually glad to hear you didn’t take all my suggestions. I love when an author really sifts through and chooses what s/he thinks is best for his or her story. That, in itself, takes a great amount of strength. 🙂

  2. Great blog, and I think it’s really powerful for contracted authors such as yourself to share truth like this.

    Also, taking a road trip to a concert sounds like the best possible way to deal with this type of situation. Who did you go see?

    • My sister surprised me with tickets to Imagine Dragons. We were on the floor at the stage. It felt quite epic and, surprisingly, didn’t blow out my eardrums. It helped that many of their songs are in my inspirational writing playlist. [grin]

  3. I hear ya! About half-way through my writing journey, I had received great critiques but yes, I would plummet. But then I finally realized that every single great work of fiction out there didn’t start out great. It went through the same process mine was going through. So many times I’ve looked at the end result of someone else’s creation and I think negative thoughts of my own messed up manuscript. Such as I SUCK or my writing/my art SUCKS. But by keeping at it and applying what I’ve learned, I’m hoping to bring my art the best I can. I still crash, I think, but I know better why and allow some grace. Just like you mentioned. I just keep telling myself–embrace the pain! Ha! Thanks for sharing about your process. It was from reading blogs like yours when I first stumbled upon the online writing communities that helped give me a better idea of the process. I know that I can’t bring my story to the best without the input of others. So…I’m gearing up for an editor to bleed all over my MS soon. 🙂

    • Awesome! Start stocking up on chocolate, right? 😉

      I just keep telling myself that J. K. Rowling and C. S. Lewis probably had editors. And Francine Rivers. And Suzanne Collins. And all those other big names. Their books didn’t just pop out perfect.

      Thank you for your thoughts and comment. I totally relate to and understand everything you said! I think we’ll find that the process is more similar among writers than we’d expect. [grin]

  4. THAT was the perfect scripture.i know I feel like I can tweak my MS indefinitely…guess I shouldn’t be surprised by what the editor digs up!

    • Thanks! I found it this morning and couldn’t stop reading it over and over again. And I don’t think that feeling of being able to tweak our manuscripts will ever leave us. 😉

  5. Hi Nadine, You pretty well nailed the emotions that go with editing. As an editOR, I can tell you that I often get lambasted by writers who think I’m too pedantic and picky, but I m confident in my knowledge to understand that if that writer’s ego doesn’t get in the way, I can make their writing, and ultimately their story, stronger. As a writer, it used to be a real bruiser to read turn down letters and comments from editors. But the idea of a partnership truly line out what is going on. When I write for a magazine, I get that it’s not my magazine so whatever that editor wants in order for my article to be published is going to get me paid so, it’s easier to let up. For my books, it is a bit tougher to “let go” but ultimately, I know that the house has the odds in its favor! Thanks for all your comments. I appreciate you perspective.

    • Thank you, Jim, for your added perspective! The house certainly has the odds in its favor. 😉 It’s a tough line keeping that story as “yours” and holding on to the vision, while allowing it to be tweaked to fit the needs of the publisher and the readers.

  6. Thank you so much for the great post! It’s helpful to remember that we’re all on the same side, haha!

    I haven’t had my manuscript edited yet, at least not professionally, but I plan on doing that before I query. It’s such a daunting process!

    Thanks for your advice,

    • You are welcome! It is certainly daunting, but you will be a much better writer because of it! My dreams of being a freelance editor arose after I received a giant edit on my first manuscript (and boy was there a lot to fix!) While all the comments were hard to read at the time, I don’t think I’d be editing today if not for that first edit.

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