half the Steps
Unpublished writer “Barbara Stevens” asked me to critique and edit her
newest unpublished novel’s first chapter. “I’ve written twelve other manuscripts,”
she said, “and they’ve been rejected a lot of times. I hope you can figure out
Well, I did, and quickly. Her blogs sparkled, she dreamed up creative plots, and
her heart was certainly in her work. But she’d made a major craft mistake in that
chapter and, presumably, in all twelve of those manuscripts. It was a mistake that
almost guaranteed she’d never be published.
We discussed her problem (we’ll get back to that later), and the light bulb over
her head glowed brilliantly. She rewrote that first chapter and I edited it again,
and, as if by magic, it became publishable. Barbara used her new-found
knowledge to revise the rest of that manuscript, followed by her twelve other
novels. Within two months she sold one, and she’s now been published many
times. She’s on her way.
The point? Barbara’s breakthrough came directly from correcting that one craft
mistake. She’d made it time and time again and was destined to repeat it again
and again, until someone told her what it was.
You may be making that same mistake. Or perhaps you’re making another
equally deadly one—mistakes we’ll identify and resolve in this book—and are not
aware of it. But there’s hope.
Bad news, good news
If you’ve never been published, there’s both bad news and good news.
The bad news is that most unpublished writers will never be published. Editors
receive hundreds of manuscripts each week and ultimately buy fewer than one
percent. We’ve all heard of hapless writers who have wallpapered their home or
office walls with rejections. Perhaps you’re one.
The reason is basic. Many writers send problem-riddled manuscripts to editor
after editor, as Barbara did, believing they are perfect. In the meantime they
blithely build the same flaws into their next manuscript. They simply don’t know
they’re making those mistakes. Unless someone tells them or they somehow learn
on their own, their manuscripts will be rejected the rest of their lives. Note,
however, that someone does recognize their problems. Those editors!
They quickly spot them in a manuscript’s first chapter—often on the first page—
and reject the submission without reading further. They know the rest of the
manuscript contains the same mistakes, just as we know an iceberg’s submerged
part is made up of more of the same ice seen on top. But editors simply don’t
have the time or inclination to teach authors writing skills. So they send out “sorry,
it’s not for us” letters and move on to the next manuscript in their bulging “in”
The good news? That can change!
It’s time for someone to tell these writers what they’re doing wrong. And that, of
course, is the purpose of this book. If you apply what you learn here to your
current and future manuscripts, they’ll be tremendously improved. Improved
enough, perhaps, to entice that next editor to take you on.
I’ve seen your problems many times. I edited trade magazines for twelve years,
supervised writers while writing for a major PR firm’s national clients for six, and
headed my own public relations company (McNair Marketing Communications) for
twenty-two years. For the last five years I’ve run my own editing firm (McNairEdits.
com) where I polish other writers’ work.
Believe me, I know firsthand the problems many writers build into their
manuscripts. In my position of working through an editing network, I see hundreds
of raw manuscripts, and most need heavy editing. What I see is what those
experienced publication editors and agents see, so I know why they reject ninety-
nine percent of the manuscripts offered.
In those forty-plus years I learned that most writers, particularly unpublished ones,
need heavy editing. Unfortunately, most don’t know they do. They haven’t a
clue. Their inappropriate and extra words seemed to act as a fog that slows car
drivers down, or hides dangerous rocks from ship captains. The reader tries to
navigate through the book, and if it’s filled with unnecessary words and confusing
information, she’ll likely give up.
I was wrong!
Although I enjoy the editing process, for years I secretly wished I could teach my
writers to defog their own work. That, of course, seemed impossible.
But wait. I was wrong! That was before I discovered something that changed my
own writing forever, and that of my clients. I’m betting it will change yours.
That personal revelation took place several years ago on a flight from Chicago to
Atlanta, where I was to research an article for a client. Out of boredom I was
editing a fog-filled paperback, when I realized the same mistakes appeared over
and over. I was intrigued. I bought another paperback at the Atlanta airport and
edited it on the way home. A pattern emerged, and I became excited. Had I
discovered the writer’s Rosetta stone?
Over the next several months I edited many other paperback novels. I joined
critique groups and aggressively edited other writers’ fiction. I plowed through all
those manuscripts from pre-published authors and the marked-up paperback
books I’d tossed into a dresser drawer, and painstakingly sorted thousands of
offending sentences and other problems by type. I eventually identified twenty-
one distinct problems. Today I call their solutions, appropriately enough, the
“Twenty-One Steps to Fog-Free Writing.”
The inference staggered me. Just as there’s a specific number of elements in
chemistry’s Periodic Table and letters in the alphabet, there’s also a specific
number of fog problems in writing. I realized many unnecessary words are actually
tips of bad-writing icebergs, and that eliminating those words resolves otherwise
complicated editing problems. In fact, almost half the Steps actually strengthen
action while shortening sentences. You can see it happen right before your eyes.
So, here’s the good news. You don’t have to be an English major to achieve this
writing miracle. You don’t have to diagram sentences or study verb declensions,
whatever they are. You don’t have to learn complicated rules, wade through thick
manuals of style, or immerse yourself in the technical mumbo-jumbo of a book on
editing. Applying what you learn here will make you a better writer than would
struggling with any of those.
Here’s why. Most editing manuals are like geography books that give great
information but don’t show how to get from place to place. This book is a GPS that
leads you through the writing jungle to solve your specific writing problems.
Most editing manuals are like dictionaries from which you’re asked to select words
to write the Great American Novel. This book shows what specific words to use
and what ones not to use.
Forget the theories
This book is not loaded with theory. It instead presents knowledge a step at a
time, and asks you apply what you learned—a step at a time—to your Work-In-
Progress’s first chapter. You’ll also edit a nine-chapter melodrama along the way,
and check your editing against mine. When you’ve worked through this book you’ll
have an editor-proof first chapter, and will be ready to edit the rest of your book.
You’ll learn how to write sparkling, clear, powerful copy that attracts readers,
agents, and editors. And sales.
That’s a pretty big claim, I realize. Just how do I expect you to accomplish that
First, consider your Work-In-Progress’s first chapter—or the first chapter of that
manuscript that constantly comes back from editors unwanted—as your
battlefield. Incorporate what you learn in this book into that chapter, step by step,
and it will become almost editor-proof.
You’ll be surprised. Delighted. When you later apply the techniques to your
whole manuscript, you’ll watch it sparkle. And every manuscript you write from
now on will be clearer and more compelling than any you’ve ever written, for two
reasons: You won’t make most of those mistakes in the first place, and you’ll know
exactly what to look for when you self-edit. You can find many of the problems
simply by using your word processor’s “find” function.
I’ve divided this book into three parts: Part One: Putting Words In, Part Two:
Taking Words Out, and Part Three: Sharing Your Words. Part One deals with
inserting information into the right place and in the right form as you write. Part
Two deals with removing words that fog up your writing. That’s where we put
those twenty-one Steps to work. Part Three, of course, is where all your work
So consider this book as your doorway to better writing. Remember this old
saying? “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day, but teach him to fish, and he’ll
eat for a lifetime.” Apply what you learn in this book, and you’ll learn how to fish!
|EDITOR-PROOF YOUR WRITING:
21 Steps to the Clear Prose
Publishers and Agents Crave
You CAN be published!
The book will be available April 1, 2013.
To preview and pre-order,click HERE!