What we look for in a manuscript.

Hi, my name is Melissa Caldwell and I am the fiction editor at Cedar Fort, Inc.

By the time a manuscript gets to me, the acquisitions editor, who acquires the story and makes suggestions on content, has already read through it. My job is to do the copyediting: grammar, punctuation, typesetting, and flow and pace of the story. I also do some work on the content as well, but usually the story is in pretty good shape, which means I get to enjoy the story and work more on the details.

I love editing fiction! People are so creative and we get some really enthralling stories. What I’m looking for in a book are memorable characters, naturally-flowing dialogue, and an interesting story. We all know that conflict drives a story, so I’m looking for ways to bring that out and to make it unique for that story. And, of course, I’m very interested in the details. Punctuation can make a huge difference in a how a sentence is read. Grammar helps keep the form of the story sounding nice. The flow and pace of the story helps keep the readers’ interest. How the book looks on the inside helps create the feel of the book. I keep track of all these factors when editing.

So here are some do’s and don’ts from a copyeditor’s perspective:

  • Do read aloud your book. If you feel that something sounds wordy, weird, or not quite right, it probably is.
  • Have someone read your book. In fact, have a few people read your book. If you find someone who likes to edit, even better! The better the book is from the beginning, the more likely it will be published.
  • Don’t worry about rejections. It just means you can rewrite and try again. It’s a learning experience but one that will make you a better writer.
  • Don’t give up when you receive a bad review or criticism. People like different types of books, and sometimes they won’t like your particular writing. It’s not a big deal because you’ll find people who do like your writing.
  • Listen to conversations. I find the best way to get good dialogue is to listen to how other people speak.
  • Read, read, read! The more you read, the more you’re exposed to different types of writing. How are classics different from Young Adult lit? How are people using punctuation in dystopian novels? How does the pacing of romance differ from a mystery? It’s all out there, so read and discover.
  • And last, listen to your editor. Editors are trained to know what’s correct. They’re also trained in a specific style, so don’t be afraid to ask questions. Together, author and editor are trying to make the story the best it can be. And in the end, it will be a product that both can be proud of.

Thanks for this opportunity to share some insight in an editor’s mind. Have fun and keep on writing and reading!

Melissa Caldwell was born in Canada, raised in Lindon, Utah, and lives in Provo. She graduated from BYU in 2006 with an English degree and editing minor. She was hired in 2007 by Cedar Fort, Inc. to be the receptionist and a year later worked her way in to the editing department. She’s been there ever since and loves it.