Monday, September 23, 2019

Top 5 Tips For Surviving a Content Edit

by Ane Mulligan @AneMulligan

Some people hate editing, but I love this phase of writing. For me, that's where a good story becomes great. Where description becomes reader experience. When the pig gets lipstick.

But when the book finally goes to the publisher, you get … The Content Edit. You may get a new editor, one who perhaps isn't familiar with you or your writing. It's easy for your defenses to go on alert, especially if you're multi-published. As your hackles rise, it's also easy to think you know more than the editor. Until they comment how much they love a description or comment "lol" over a sentence. Then they're brilliant. So here are a few tips to survive that process.

Tips for Surviving a Content Edit

5. After reading the content letter and reading through your editor's comments on the manuscript, let it sit for a day. Then go back and make the easy changes before you tackle the hard ones. When you see how much better your manuscript reads from the easier changes, it will make it easier to accept the harder ones.

4. When your editor asks for a brief description of a character so the reader can "see" him or her, do it. The funny thing is I'm a visual writer. I need pictures of my characters. But, I write tight. RUE (resist the urge to explain) and GWS (goes without saying) were the bywords of my early training. Reinforcing that, a writer I admire once said, "Readers like to put their vision onto the hero/heroine, so I don't give detailed descriptions of their looks." That doesn't mean drop all descriptions. Readers want to experience what the characters do. So when your editor asks for a glimpse at a character or the room, oblige her.

3. Content edits are hard. Your writing flows from one thought to another—one scene to the next. Then, your editor asks you to break up a scene and intersperse the information into other places. What? Yeah. And it's hard work. Kick a few cabinets if you need to. Then hike up your britches and do the work. I promise, in the end, you'll be glad you did.

2. We know all the thoughts inside the heads of our characters. The reader doesn't. If your editor asks for clarification, there's a good reason. Something stopped her, and we don't want the reader stopped. We may want to raise a question, but in a way that makes the reader keep going to find the answer. Your editor needs to know that, so together, you can find a compromise.  

1. Your editor's goal is to make your book the best it can be. She knows fiction and how to make you look better. After all, her job is at stake. In the end, I accepted 99% of my editor's requested changes. The couple I didn't, she and I discussed. I explained my reasoning, and she agreed. What really stood out to me was that all the changes didn't affect my voice. And they truly made the book a better one, which was the goal. Yes, my editor definitely knows her stuff. 

Look for In High Cotton, coming Summer of 2020.


Ane Mulligan has been a voracious reader ever since her mom instilled within her a love of reading at age three, escaping into worlds otherwise unknown. But when Ane saw Mary Martin in PETER PAN, she was struck with a fever from which she never recovered—stage fever. She submerged herself in drama through high school and college. Years later, her two loves collided, and a bestselling, award-winning novelist emerged. She resides in Sugar Hill, GA, with her artist husband and a rascally Rottweiler. Find Ane on her websiteAmazon Author pageFacebookTwitterInstagramPinterest and The Write Conversation.  


  1. Great tips! Thanks, Ane! A good editor is a treasure! I thank God for mine!

  2. Ms. Ane, there's so much I don't know about writing, I don't even know if a content edit applies to nonfiction works. If it does, then your tips have well prepared me for the joy to come ma'am. Thank you. Loved your second point (#4). It reminded me of how disappointed I was to learn Tom Cruise was playing the Jack Reacher character from the Lee Child novels. I was repulsed by the idea of that little pipsqueak playing a character I viewed in my mind as 6'4", hard-edged, muscular, with scarred knuckles. Wonderful tips ma'am.

  3. Thanks, J.D.! And I don't know, but I'm pretty sure content edits apply to all book, fiction and non-fiction. I laughed and coffee shot out my nose over your Tom Cruise observation. LOL!!!

  4. What an informative post!
    It is never to early to learn about content edits.
    Great post, Ane!

  5. I love the editing phase, too. And like you, I try to get the easy changes out of the way because I really have to focus on the challenging ones.

  6. This is important information. I am preparing to send my current WIP to an editor. Thank you for the tips.

  7. Ane, good stuff. I'd add the comment, for those who think that once a novel is accepted there's nothing more for the author to do, that the editor doesn't hate you or your work. They're just trying to make it even better. Remember, it takes a village (or several editors).