Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Part II: The Macro Edit

Today, I will share a trade secret with you. Shhhh. Pull down the blinds, turn off the phone, and promise you won't tell a soul. Just kidding. You can share it with any writer you want. There is a great deal of confusion in the publishing business about what constitutes a macro edit and exactly what an editor is looking for during the edit.

Because I use experienced freelance fiction editors who may have worked for other publishers and editors, I decided to research as many sources as possible, talk to other editors, and come up with a one-page set of instructions that is sent to any freelancer who works on one of our author's manuscripts.

The rest of this blog will contain those instructions. I'm sure some of you will disagree with many of my guidelines; others may celebrate that someone actually wrote these secrets down.

My next post after this one will cover the content/substantive/line edit. It's called many things by many different people, but after another exhaustive search into linguistics, I found out that we were all talking about the same set of rules/suggestions.

Take these guidelines for a macro edit and apply them to your writing, your editing, and share them freely. If you want to add anything, please leave a comment. Here you go . . .


Reference Works
 Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition

 Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged

 Both of these resources are available online

A macro edit should detail for the author any suggested changes in character, plot, pacing, structure, point of view, dialogue, or other major issues that would help make the manuscript stronger.

Did the author begin the novel too early or include too much back story? Did the story begin too late? Are the characters' actions and dialogue consistent and believable?

Is the main plot clearly resolved? Is there enough conflict to make the story compelling? Do the turning points/inciting incidents appear in the right places?

Is a subplot necessary or is it a “rabbit trail”? Would a subplot enrich the book? Does the plot sag in places? Is there a satisfying balance between narrative and dialogue?

Does the author “tell” instead of “show” in places? Is the point of view consistent or does it leap back and forth in the same scene, causing "bouncing-head syndrome"? Are there redundant descriptions and scenes? Does the author tie up all loose ends by the end of the book?

Please use comment boxes within the manuscript to point out those places where a manuscript can be strengthened. As you read through the manuscript, please feel free to correct obvious spelling or grammatical errors or highlight examples of pet words and repetitive sentence structure.

Also prepare a cover sheet for general comments. This allows the in-house editor and the author to see overall comments without having to scroll through the text.

The in-house editor will pass this letter on to the author along with the manuscript and the imbedded comments. That means you are asked to be diplomatic, sensitive, and tactful in all your communications. If you encounter a problem you feel you cannot broach gracefully, you should contact the in-house editor with your concern.


 This list contains general instruction but is not an exhaustive list of items to check. Use The Chicago Manual of Style as your guide.

 It is your job to suggest changes to the author by using comment boxes in the electronic version of the manuscript.

 Use Microsoft Word or save the file in MS-Word format.

 Work with Word's Track Changes feature turned on. Every edit you make must be tracked.

 Always keep the author’s voice in mind. It is the author’s work, not the editor’s.

 Always be tactful and gracious in your remarks.

Once the macro edit is complete, it is sent back to the author for a rewrite. Some authors have little to do and it may only take a day; other authors' manuscripts may take up to three or four weeks to fix.

When the manuscript with the author's changes is sent back to the in-house editor, it then enters the content/substantive/line edit stage. More about that in another blog.

If you found this information helpful, will you please leave a comment? As most of you know by now, I want this blog to be a two-way conversation. Thanks for your participation!


  1. Thanks for this info! I definitely find it helpful. I am on the last leg of my third draft of my first fiction manuscript, and about to try to take a step back and assess these big picture issues. I've got a great critique group that has helped me catch lots of scene-by-scene issues. But I plan to try to read the whole thing through quickly for a big picture look, make plot/character arc adjustments, and then go through scene-by-scene, sentence by sentence again. If I'm ever blessed enough to have a publishing house macro-editing the story, now I know what to expect and how to prepare!
    Thanks! -Sarah

  2. Part of this would make a good checklist for authors before they hand it over to someone else. We authors may already know the answer to some of these, but we don't bother to ask ourselves because we don't like the answer.

    With the 16th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style out now, are you planning on moving over to it?

  3. Glad it was helpful, Sarah, and yes, Timothy, I'll be switching over as soon as I buy the 16th edition. Thanks for asking.

  4. Barbara, To address your question: yes, this was helpful. Wish I could receive it retroactively. : ) But it should be very helpful to anyone sweating their first macro-edit and thinking it will be terrible. It may make them cry, sweat, argue, and search for chocolate, but it will make their work better. Trust me, it will.

  5. You can never have too much information. Thanks for sharing.

  6. This one small blog contains a wealth of information, that has made an incredible difference.

    When reading 'Does the author 'tell' instead of 'show', how does this relate between dialogue and narrative?

    Another tidbit I found very interesting, use of the word 'was'. Already, I have changed that in a few sentences, and it brought an entirely different voice to my story. Thank you, Barbara

  7. Hey Barbara, remember my first Macro--Agnes went to the bathroom what . . . 750 times? Ha. But what really made a difference was your suggestion that Hezekiah's narrative arc was not complete. That was an amazing and novel changing call on your part. What I also find neat about this post is that the info is valuable for crit groups.

  8. Was this post helpful? As Sarah Palin would say, "you betcha!"

    I'm finding it especially helpful to learn of the inside view of what to expect at the editing stage with a publishing house.

    I love it that while you do so much to polish a manuscript, you also request that they respect the author's voice.

    I shall tweet and post this on Facebook!

  9. Great info! I'm looking forward to getting to this point. Thanks for sharing what we can expect.

  10. I've definitely found this helpful. I'm going to print it and save it for future reference.
    <>< Katie

  11. Wish I could go back in time, Richard, and help you out. I remember my first macro edit back in 1996. I got through it but it made me doubt that I had an ounce of talent. (Oh . . . that was me crying for three days.) If someone had explained the process, it would have made the experience so much more productive.

    Authors are not taught the role of an editor before they receive the most important edit of their lives. Notes and comments from the macro editor mean someone cares that your book and your voice are the best they can be. Now I think of myself as a "voice coach" for a singer about to appear at Carnegie Hall. LOL

    Mary, in the days of Jane Austen or Charles Dickens, audiences had not been bombarded with visual media all day. The narrative paragraph acted like Tivo or your DVR, filling in the picture for their readers. Now it's a different story. We are a visual generation.

    I would limit narrative to about a paragraph, no more than two, before mixing it with an active scene and dialogue. Back story and description should be sprinkled throughout your manuscript like salt--enough to give it flavor but not too much to ruin the stew.

    Here's another exercise for you: Use your search and find function to capitalize the word "was," or the words "just," "then," "well," or "so." Type in "ly [space]" to find all your adverbs and see how many you can eliminate. Can you make your verb stronger so that you don't need the adverb?

    What about what we used to call "helping verbs"? Past participles ending in "ing" are another sign of a weak sentence. Make it a game to find and eliminate most of these constructions. About 90% of the time, they're unnecessary. If you can't find a way to strengthen the sentence, let them stand, but I guarantee you that your writing will grow better as you find those weak, passive, or pet words.

    And Joyce, I remember well. Your writing has taken off into a different dimension--one with fewer bathroom breaks. LOL

    Thanks for spreading the word, Teri, and I'm glad everyone found this post helpful. Authors deserve to know what goes on behind the ivory towers of our publishing houses. Wait until I leave the editorial department for a walk through marketing, sales, art, printing, distribution. Oh, and don't get me started on meetings.

    Thanks everyone for participating! Pass on this blog to a friend who might need the info.


  12. As a gal currently working through her own list of revisions, this was incredibly helpful!

  13. This is very helpful. Perfect to print out and keep next to your manuscript as you go over it. Too bad I didn't understand all this better several drafts ago. 8-)

  14. Thanks for the info. It was extremely helpful! I'm currently tying up the loose ends of the first draft of my novel, so any advice I can get is wonderful! Thanks!

  15. Great stuff here!!! This has been very helpful. Thanks for the inside view.

  16. Thanks for the information and for your dedication to help writers write better.

  17. Thank you, Barbara, for sharing valuable info from your position. I hired a freelance editor who specializes in helping aspiring novelists. The assistance I received from her is invaluable, and it was as you posted here with a macro edit. She also made reading recommendations that help me to learn the craft. I'm passing your blog on to my writing friends.

  18. Barbara, thanks for this insightful post. I hope it will prove helpful. I've spent the past year self editing my first manuscript and look forward to the time when I get the opportunity to experience the macro-edit phase.

    Though I'm currently in the process of trying to set aside my internal editor in order to release the creative side on my new WIP, I still appreciate any input into how to strengthen my writing as I go.

  19. Thank you, Barbara! This looks a lot like the critique I got back from a trusted and valuable crit partner a couple of weeks ago. Her comments and input are making a tremendous difference as I work through this round on the novel.

    I look forward to having a professional macro-edit request one day!

  20. I am actually currently editing my first women's fiction novel, so I found this blog very helpful.

    One of my favorite English professors always used to say that writing is not a process where the writer goes away in a closet and hides, then the professor shows up to take the paper, goes into his own closet with a grading pen and hides. Rather, writing is in constant flux and is best improved by communication.

    I feel like that's what you are doing with this blog: opening up communication. As an author aspiring to be published, I appreciate the time you are committing to do so!

  21. I'm so appreciative of everyone taking the time to read this blog since it's longer than most. I think I've achieved my goal, though, which was to break down the walls of publishing so that authors were more prepared to pursue their dreams.

    Now on to a Friday blog. I'm experimenting with blogging days. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday have seemed good for me. I conk out on Thursday, but I'd like to end everyone's week with an encouraging post. Let me know what days work best for you! (Oops, there's that criminal exclamation point again. I'm always on the lookout for the grammar police. ;)

  22. Great list! Thanks for sharing! Like others said, this is a good list for the writer to keep in mind during edits.

    I don't think it matters if your posts are long because the info you're sharing is what we need to read. Also, days don't matter much to me because your post is in my dashboard so if I don't get to it on the day you post, I'll probably get to it the next. Love my dashboard!