The long-haul truckers of editing: Magazine versus manuscript editors

Going from magazine editing to manuscript editing is like switching from the life of a commuter to the life of a long-haul trucker. Sure, commuting raises your blood pressure and sometimes you want to drive off an interstate river bridge, but after about two hours most people reach their destination without choosing to swim with the fishes. For manuscript writers, agents, and editors, everyday’s a lesson in patience and perseverance. They know that with time and effort, they will reach their final destination, but first there’s a lot of work involved to drive it to completion.

Magazines are by nature publications with quick turnarounds. They are stocked with a lot of short articles – some no longer than paragraph-long blurbs — and usually written by a multitude of authors. Magazine features are in the 1,000 to 3,000-word range — about the length of a chapter — so the writing arc and editing time is truncated. The line and copy editing and fact checking is a 3-pass job more often than not. (I’m talking small press and trade pubs. I don’t pretend to know about the big boys. My career took a “I just had twins” 8-year happy hiatus and I never made my way to one.)

Manuscripts, on the other hand, are innately personal and encompass many thousands of words. For instance, my sci-fi fantasy should shake out somewhere under 100,000 when I’m done editing down. These word counts are not only based on reader preference (middle grade less, adults more) and necessity (fantasy and sci-fi are often longer for sufficient world building) but eventual printing costs. (For a good guide to manuscript word count by genre, visit Writer’s Digest:

Now, imagine trying to shorten a magazine article to fit a column so there’s room for a big photo or some fun headline art. You cut a sentence or two, or tighten phrasing easily without losing meaning. Now, take a debut sci-fi fantasy novelist like (ahem) me, for instance, who needs to cut 11,000 words just so an agent doesn’t toss it immediately because the printing costs on a work that long are just too risky for a first-timer. Cutting this without losing meaning requires hours of work. Days of work. Metaphorically speaking: Cruise control, missed turns, detours, tolls, sleep deprivation, pit stops and murder. After all, you’re supposed to kill your darlings. But don’t focus on that now. There’s snacking too — lots of it. A box of those pink coconut covered Twinkie things and Coke Zero. A lot of people say chocolate. Whatever you need to get you there.

But that’s not the half of it. Once you do secure an agent, there will be agent edits. And when you get that book deal, there will be MORE editors. MORE edits. Realistically, your book will not be the same one you sent to agents by the time it’s ink on paper. This isn’t a bad thing. The articles my writers sent me were never the same articles I printed either. It just took me far less time to get them their final copy in hand.

NOTE: “The Word Loss Diet” book has been an immeasurable tool for me. It taught me to use a brevity of words, so that the ones that do end up ink on paper, carry the most weight. Critique partners are great. Contests like #PitchWars open your eyes. Networking with other authors opens doors. 

Now. Break’s over. Get the keys back in the ignition and DRIVE.



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