Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Part I: The Dreaded Macro Edit

After performing the macro edit [the first pass on an unsuspecting manuscript] I send it back to the author with an e-mail that reads something like this:

Hi Author (insert name), [notice the breezy tone]

Attached is the macro edit of your manuscript Bestselling Novel. Many writers have been known to throw themselves across the bed and cry for three days before they could move forward. Please don't. I know it can be painful, but my job is to take a 50,000-foot viewpoint of your book and offer comments that will make it sing like a Stradivarius violin.

I honor you as the author, and my suggestions are intended to strengthen your structure, plot, and character arc so that your voice soars off the page [and hopefully, about a bazillion people will want to buy your book.]

[This is the point in the e-mail when authors run for the Xanax or stand up and circle their desks as if they've just discovered a cobra sitting on the computer. Some pace. Some throw things. As the editor, I'm glad I do this long distance.]

You will notice there are a great many comments inserted into your manuscript, most of them in the earlier chapters. I trust that you will look for and find those same problem areas in the rest of your manuscript. If I spot a consistent pet word or phrase or a favorite sentence construction, I'll track changes and point that out as well. For instance, many authors are quite fond of using the word then to connect two phrases. You might want to use the global search function and capitalize the word. You might be surprised how often you've employed that sentence construction [like maybe 2,342 times!].

Continuity can be another issue. If your heroine has brilliant green eyes in the first chapter [Don't all heroines have green eyes?] you don't want her eyes to turn brown in chapter 18. Make sense? It's always a good idea to keep a notebook or note card handy with a full description of each character.

As well, watch for passive language. Active language propels your story forward as though you were shooting the rapids on the Colorado River. Passive language steers you into a log where your canoe sits for what seems like hours. At least 95% of the time, you can eliminate the word was and recast your sentences in a more active tense. Sometimes was is just the right word to use, but not often.

First, read the macro edit letter I've attached before moving on to the comments and suggested changes in the manuscript. It will explain my reasons and ask questions about holes in your plot.

Please let me know if you have any questions. I'm always available by e-mail or phone during the editing process. I'm quite flexible, and I'm sure we can make your manuscript shine like that highly polished Stradivarius.


In tomorrow's blog, we'll dig deeper into the macro letter and the actual macro edit. Please ask any questions you might have about this process. If you've never had your manuscript macro edited, it can seem daunting. But trust me, it's all part of the standard publishing cycle. Questions? Comments?


  1. Very interesting! On one of my manuscripts a crit partner pointed out all my thens. There was a lot! LOL
    I've been blessed to see two different friends revision letters and yikes! Definitely something to make a writer reach for the chocolate.

  2. It's great that you've been able to read a couple before you receive your first one. You'll be a pro! And yes, I recommend laying in a stock of chocolate for the occasion. :)

  3. Wow! 2,342 times? Really? I did a quick check of my WIP and the word then only appears 98 times in 41,000 words.

    I use was frequently in the first draft and I don’t worry about fixing it until the third draft. What are your thoughts on using was in dialog versus otherwise? Also, was isn’t always passive. Do you really find that 95% percent of its usage is passive?

    Part of this letter seems condescending. I think most authors know what continuity means. They can look it up if they don’t. And I’m sure most authors know why they should use active language.

    Also, I noticed that you end the letter with a mixed metaphor. I’m not sure that many Stradivarius owners are highly concerned with making their instrument shine.

  4. Wait just a darn minute. You mean everyone gets this letter? Not just me?

    I feel so unspecial now.

  5. Such an informative post! I've never read another blog that showed us exactly what to expect.

    Oh that I might receive your letter some day! : )

  6. Timothy, you may be more experienced than some authors. If a writer has time to self-edit and do a global search for "weasel" words before the manuscript is turned in, that's the optimum scenario. Less experienced writers haven't yet learned that they may need four or five drafts before the manuscript is in good shape.

    I hope you'll allow me a little exaggeration occasionally. After all, my posts are supposed to be a bit humorous, something all of us serious folks can use a good dose of now and then.

    Thanks for your comments.

  7. I think I used "so" at least 1,872 times.

    When I'm defining revision for my students (most of whom consider revision begins and ends with relocating a comma), I show them my macro edit. They're usually more open to the process after they've seen I'm in the trenches with them.

  8. After receiving your first macro letter, I programmed my computer to deliver an electric shock to my fingers if they typed j-u-s-t. I think it helped cut the use of my pet word from 1,432 in my first novel's manuscript to a mere 277 in the second. I just don't (owww!)...I don't know why I keep doing it.

    Seriously, your edits are fantastic, and you chasten with such a loving tone that most of us don't even notice that we're being instructed. Keep it up.

  9. Since my grandfather was a concert violinist, I think I can say that true artists don't just care about how their instruments sound, they care about how well they are maintained. And any musician lucky enough to own a Strad would lovingly polish it until it shined :+}

    My first macro letter (and the accompanying edits) were a lot to take in all at once. But in the end, it helped me deliver a much stronger, tighter manuscript. In fact, I grew to love the editing process. Now I'm looking forward to my next macro letter... although I may have to be reminded of that when the day comes!

  10. Thanks Abingdonians for all your hard work on your manuscripts. It's because of you that we're gaining a reputation for quality. You're the best! Real "Strads."

    Sandie, you know you're special. Would I lie? ;)

    And Teri, who knows, maybe one day you'll receive one of those finger shocking edits from me or another editor. Keep dreaming big dreams!

  11. Going through the macro edits from Barbara 'was' one of the most exciting phases in the production of Surrender the Wind. I learned so much.

    Barbara, remember Mrs. Pepperdine and her daughter Henrietta that we cut out of the book? I still have her in a file, and she may rear her nosy head one of these days.

  12. I must say my first macro edit was exactly what I expected. But I, like Sandy, thought that your letter was just for me :-)

    Got to get back to the edits...deadline looms :-)