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Ask the Book Doctor

By Bobbie Christmas

Ask the Book Doctor: About the Steps of Editing, Contacting Editors, and Timelines

Q: I just finished my first draft of a paranormal romance, and now I need to go back and edit it. What are the steps of editing? What things do I need to look for as I go back through it?

A: This question is too broad to answer in a simple way, but I’ll give some general suggestions that will help.

First, let the book rest, if you can, before you go back and edit it. Once a little time has passed, you will have a better perspective and more objectivity about the editing phase. If you can take a break from your manuscript for a month, do so, but at the very least, give it a week to breathe before you tackle the editing.

In the first pass or two, look for extraneous things that can be deleted, including wordy phrases, weak scenes, unnecessary chapters, and redundant information or words. Look for ways to tighten, tighten, tighten. If the novel is more than 100,000 words, read Sol Stein’s book, Stein on Writing, to learn how to identify weak scenes and chapters and delete them.

Watch out for inconsistencies, disorganization, and unclear sentences. Also check for weak or missing transitions between scenes or subjects. Make sure the main characters stay in character yet grow or change because of the events in the story. Make sure that not too many sentences begin alike or that certain words are overused. The second or third edit is also a perfect time to apply my Find and Refine Method, explained and detailed in my book on creative writing, Write In Style. The book tells you exactly what to look for and delete, revise, or repair to give your writing more power. It also addresses the most common flaws in manuscripts, so you can avoid them.

The final edit should be the line edit, during which time you find incorrect word choices, punctuation errors, noncompliance with Chicago Style, and all the other little details that polish the prose to a high shine. If you aren’t good at grammar and punctuation, turn to a professional editor for help.

Q: I’ve finished a nonfiction book. Why is it so hard to get in contact with acquisition editors? Where do I start? How soon could my book be on the market?

A: It is hard to contact acquisitions editors because they are overworked and overwhelmed with manuscripts written by people who did not take the time to learn their craft and refine their manuscripts. Publishers prefer to get submissions through agents, because agents pick only the best to send, but agents are equally overworked and difficult to reach. It’s a tough business.

I trust you’ve written a killer proposal for your nonfiction book as well as some dynamite sample chapters. That’s a good beginning.

As for where to start finding a publisher, one good place to get leads is a book called Writers Market or at a Web site called, which requires a paid subscription. The library should have a copy of Literary Market Place, which lists all publishers and agents in the business, too. For another good source, go to a bookstore and see who is publishing nonfiction books in your category.

How soon could your book be on the market? My book, Write In Style, took only six months from the time I turned it into the publisher, but that’s a short time period. It took me more than four years and two agents to find a publisher who would buy it, though, so for me it was more than four and a half years from the time I first tried to find a publisher. Some publishers don’t release a book for three to five years after they buy it. There’s no standard, so there’s no way of knowing your timeline, until a publisher makes an offer. A word of warning, though: Do not sign any contract that does not clearly state when the book will be released.

–Do you have a question for Bobbie Christmas, the book doctor? Send it to a personal answer. To read more questions and answers, go to and click on "Ask the Book Doctor."



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