You’re excited and nervous to get your manuscript back from your editor.
Then you open the document . . . long slow blink . . . you put your head in your hands and vow to never, ever write a book again.
Rest assured that tracking all over the page doesn’t mean your book was bad. Tracking is messy looking. The editor could have simply moved a paragraph, and now bam, there’s a long block of tracked words and a long block of deleted words. It looks like a train wreck.
Editors are not red-pen-wielding villains, manically laughing as they scream, “Make it bleed! Make it bleed!”
If you’ve chosen the right editor, they are in your corner. But when you open that document, you may be tempted to curse their name and view them as the enemy.
But they are not the enemy. They are here to help. After all good writing is rewriting, and the revising and editing process usually requires deep thinking and time.
So remember this when you open that document: it may look scary, but you are going to get through it. After all, you already tackled a hard task—you wrote a book!
Ways to Approach the Tracked Changes
First, take a pause and don’t dive into the manuscript when you still feel angry or hurt. Wait for that emotion to pass, and then get to work.
Read through the various approaches and determine which style will work best for you. For me, method 3 is my favorite, but I also like 2. However, I know many of my clients have found 1 works best for them.
This blog assumes you understand how to use Word’s Track Changes. If you don’t, this blog explains how to do the things outlined in the methods below.
Method 1: Cover it all up
1. Get rid of all distractions by switching the view to “no markup,” and like magic all that horrid looking tracking that beat you down is gone. Poof! Or you can switch it to “simple markup.”
Now what you have is your manuscript with all changes accepted. Don’t worry! The tracked changes are still there; they are just hidden.
2. Start reading, stopping only at sentences, paragraphs, or sections that feel off or don’t sound like you.
3. If you have “simple markup” turned on, then you can look to see if editor left a comment. In “no markup” view, you will first need to switch to “all markup” or “simple markup” to see if a comment was left. If the editor left a comment, see if it explains why they made the change they did.
- Comment clarified the change and you now agree: do nothing
- Comment clarified the change and you agree with the reasoning but not the exact change they made: reject the change (turn on “all markup” to do that), but then change your content to match their reasoning.
- Example: Editor wrote a transition to connect the ideas together, and you agree a transition is needed, but you don’t like the transition they wrote. You would reject their added transition and write your own.
- Comment clarified the change but you don’t agree it is needed: reject the change (turn on “all markup” to do that)
4. If the editor did not leave a comment for that change, see if you can reason through why they made the change they did. If you can, go through the bulleted steps above. But if you’re unsure, you can either leave the change for now and write a comment asking them why they made that change (this, of course, assumes that the editor will be doing another round) or reject the change.
5. Once you have read the whole manuscript without the tracking on, stopping at sections that felt off and rejecting changes you didn’t want, switch the manuscript to “all markup.” Now you can go through and see each change individually and reject any other ones you don’t want or modify them if you agree with their reasoning but not how they changed it.
6. Go to the review tab, under the show markup drop-down menu, go to specific people. Deselect your name, so only the edits by the editor are shown. Then go to accept and in the drop-down menu, select accept all changes shown. This will accept all the remaining edits by the editor since you’ve already rejected the ones you don’t want.
- It’s important to make sure you deselect your name; otherwise, it will also accept your changes. You will want those to stay tracked so the editor can easily identify the changes you’ve made when you give the manuscript back. If you accidentally accept your changes too, just let the editor know and they can run compare document to get them back.
Method 2: Jump on in
With this method, you just take a deep breath, chant “I can do hard things,” and dive on in.
You keep the tracking on.
1. Read all the changes in a given paragraph or section with any accompanying comments to see if editor explained the reason for the change. Reject any of the changes in the paragraph you don’t want (see step 3 in method 1)
2. Read and respond to any comments that need responses in that paragraph/section.
3. Add any of your own changes to that paragraph/section.
4. Move on to the next paragraph/section.
Method 3: A blend of the two
With this method, you will start with all tracking turned on (like method 2), but at certain points, you will turn off the markup (like method 1).
1. Dive in and start accepting and rejecting changes and responding to any comments that need responses.
2. When you come to a particularly heavily edited paragraph, page, or section and all the tracking seems overwhelming or you can’t make sense of the changes because of all the tracking, switch the view to “no markup.”
3. Then just read that paragraph, page, or section without the cumbersome tracking in the way. See how it sounds and how it feels.
4. Follow steps 3 and 4 outlined in the first method.
5. Turn tracking back on and continue to dive in, repeating steps 2–4 as needed.
Ways to Approach the Comments
In the methods for how to approach the tracking, I mentioned dealing with comments. However, I wanted to give you some overarching methods for how to deal with them.
You can address all comments as you go, which is described in the tracking methods.
Or you can opt to only read the comments that explain why a change was made and ignore the rest for now. Then once you’ve accepted/rejected all changes, you can then go back and read the comments where the editor suggests you make changes to the text. And make those added changes as you see fit.
Remember these truths when you get a heavily edited manuscript back from your editor:
- You did not do a bad job
- You tackled something really hard–writing a book
- The editor is not your enemy
- Suggested changes by an editor are only suggestions; you get final say
- Most editors are trained professionals (there are some editors out there who shouldn’t be advertising themselves as such) so their suggestions come from their training; thus, you should consider every change
- Publishing a great book is more important than your ego
- You can do hard things
Katie Chambers, owner of Beacon Point, is a nonfiction and fiction substantive (developmental) editor and copy editor for independent authors, content writer and editor for business professionals, online teacher, and tutor.
As an editor, she acts as a beacon by building partnerships with authors and encouraging them.
She loves books and believes they have the power to transform lives. And as such, she wants to ensure that nothing stands in the way of an author’s message or story by reducing errors and strengthening their writing and plot and character development.
Visit her business website, follow or chat with her on Twitter, or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn.
If you’re an author, take a look at her writing resources page to access free resources for you.