If you face any of the following challenges after you have drafted a manuscript, you are not alone. They are very common in drafts that I see as a content editor.
Even if I wasn’t one, I would always recommend that authors use a content editor to help produce a professional, polished manuscript. It’s often easier for someone who hasn’t been so close to the manuscript to spot these issues. It can be hard to see the forest through the trees, so to speak! And, content editors who are trained as journalists have also been conditioned to ask questions that help them see the “holes” to get to the “whole” story!
Sorry—this pun loving journalist at heart couldn’t resist an analogy and a pun!
Now back to the challenges. Unedited manuscripts may have the following content challenges:
- A disconnect between the vocabulary and your intended audience—It’s a common and noble goal of writing to help others who are younger or not as far down the road as you are. People naturally speak (and write) more naturally to those who are most like themselves. For example, an engineer or software developer tends to write in terms that can be too technical for non-mechanic types who want a how-to book. A pastor who is entrenched in theological terms wants to write to those who have just found faith, but their natural terms are only understood by those with a theological background…you get the drift.
- Holes leaving out details necessary for understanding—You may be missing key facts, like the where, when, how, why, etc. because your brain fills in those details. It’s just like in a conversation with a spouse, friend or coworker—something that seems obvious to you may not be immediately understood. This mishap in communication is certainly frustrating, but in a conversation, you have a chance to fill in the gaps. In a book, you don’t have that opportunity. The editor tries to anticipate misfires to ensure that readers understand what you are saying.
- An overabundance of flowery description because you like how it sounds—It may sound pretty to be read, but sometimes flowery description prevents readers from getting to the point soon enough, and you lose their attention. Removing unnecessary words is the best practice 95% of the time. For lengthy romance novels or period pieces, you have a bit more freedom. Those readers want to escape and have the scene set a bit more.
- An incohesive order and lack of flow because a book wasn’t outlined. Even if you do an anthology, the book needs to have some apparent structure. It can either be alphabetical, by topic or in chronological order. But, a readers need to understand the flow. As a writer, sometimes, the words just come, or you have a word count goal to meet. It’s not the end of the world if you didn’t outline your book, but it will require more sculpting later. By the time you publish your book, though, every idea needs to build on the last one.
- A chapter that doesn’t fit into the book’s message as a whole. Each chapter should be cohesive enough to stand alone if read separately. Just like you, readers may read a book over long haul, and they aren’t going to go back to a previous chapter.
- A chapter that isn’t cohesive enough. This problem can also happen when writing just flows. The writing might not have begun with a lead that connected to the headline and ended with a conclusion. An editor can help you “wrap” your chapter so it is a self-contained package with a clear beginning and an end.
- Unconnected points. In any narrative text, you have to connect one point to the next, or the writing is choppy. Adding transitions is one of the content editors biggest jobs. I liken it to connecting newly built houses with driveways and roads to make a subdivision.
- Missing applications or take-aways at the end of a section or chapter. These items are especially helpful in non-fiction how-to or self-help books.
- Lack of visual elements or unrelated visuals like call outs, infographics or photos where they could helpful to emphasize what your text is saying. Conversely, some people are graphic happy these days, and they add charts, but they don’t set the stage or context of the graphic. It needs to relate to and enhance the manuscript, not just be thrown in there to have one.
I hope this list helps you see what content editors are looking for! It’s a bit long—and there is definitely more, but I hope it helps you understand the value of investing in content editing!
Like anything, you can try it yourself, or you can delegate it to a “pro.” If you would like help, I’d love to hear from you! Please feel free to contact me!