Editing A Novel With Steve Parolini, The Novel Doctor

This interview dispels a the myths about what editors do and gives writers some great tips on how to improve their manuscript before submission/pitching.

Steve Parolini, the Novel Doctor, has been an editor for over 20 years working on everything from curriculum to study guides to self-help books to fiction. He is a freelance editor, collaborating with a variety of publishing houses and individuals on books of all kinds.

In this podcast, you will learn:

  • What does an editor anyway? The process of editing a novel. Steve spends a lot of time reading and likes to read a book on the Kindle. He does a first reading straight through as an ‘end user’ in order to experience it as a real book. He reads at 2 levels – as a reader and as an editor. In the next re-read on the computer, he makes notes on the aspects that need to be changed or tweaked. Manuscripts are all at different stages when they are submitted so different things are needed. If a full edit is being done, then changes are made on the manuscript itself with Track Changes. An editorial review is done on a separate document.
  • Can an edit ever be finished? A book can be considered unfinished forever and you can continue making changes over and over again. But at some point the writer/publisher must decide that it is done. There is a process through rewrites, editing, proof reading, beta readers, line edit, copy edit etc but eventually it has to be put out there. [See Seth Godin on ‘shipping’]
  • Is there a checklist for genre fiction? Not that Steve knows of. He loves story above all else and the rest is a gut feeling. The story has to work whatever the genre. Movie scripts have these types of checklists.
  • The writer’s voice sells books. You don’t get there by selling one manuscript. It takes a lot of writing to find your rhythm. Steve sees glimpses of this in beginning manuscripts.
  • Tips for authors before they submit to an editor. Often happens with second book with 1 year deadline. Authors haven’t taken the time to look at it from multiple perspectives. First draft – just write it. Second draft – everything is suspect. Everything is subject to change. Be tough on the writer. This critical view is what will make the book publishable. So second draft is major revision. Then couple more drafts of refining and by then, you are tired of it. Then use trusted readers to get some response and feedback. Then it might be time to submit to an editor, when there is nothing else you can do to improve your book.
  • The biggest problems with manuscripts. Repetition of words, phrases but also of ideas, plot devices and the way the writing is done. This can make the reader skip over those parts which is monotonous. Episodic writing that doesn’t move the story forward is also common. Taking the time to learn how to write active voice, how to show and not tell – all the usual aspects. A critical revision and second draft can fix a lot of these.
  • On word count expectations. If books cut everything they can, how can authors still meet publishing ranges for books? 70-90,000 words is the most common for mainstream novels. Romance is less at 50,000 words and epic fantasy at the other end of 100-150,000. Write the story and see how many words you need to write the story. There is room for negotiation. Grow it if it is too small but don’t make it flabby.
  • Does a writer have to make all the changes the editor suggests? It is up to the author but if the changes are through a publishing house, they may mandate the changes as part of the contract. It depends on how you feel the story will be affected by the changes. Steve comments on the author-editor partnership and how it works.
  • On rewriting. Sometimes the changes may mean big rewrites, even another full draft. Weigh up whether the changes will make a better book as once you get into it, you may find it helps. It is daunting to get editorial notes back but remember, it could improve your work.

Here is a short video with an excerpt from the interview with Steve.

You can find Steve at TheNovelDoctor.com and also on Twitter @noveldoctor.

For more tips, read Steve’s article: 11 tips for your second draft

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  1. Gary A Swaby says

    Great show. I really needed some insight on the whole editing process and this is a big help. Thanks to you both.

  2. Elisa Michelle says

    Great post, as always! I’m really interested in this one for two reasons. 1-I want to be an editor when I get out of college and 2-I’m almost halfway done with a first draft and was just starting to wonder what you do after that.

  3. Alice Shepler says

    Joanna, just getting started with e-book publishing. Your videos and messages are so helpful, especially one I just listened to with Steve, The NovelDoctor.com. I’ll definitely check out his website. Do you have articles on e-publishing yourself rather than going through an e-publisher?
    Thanks so much.

    • says

      Hi Alice,
      My main reasons for doing it myself are:
      * You only pay 1 middleman i.e. Amazon – if you go through someone else you pay them as well as Amazon/ other retailers
      * Ease of updates and they are also free – some of these ebook publishers will charge you to update
      It’s really easy to do your own files now, use Scrivener or another package. I’ll be doing a post on this soon.

  4. Ravinder Gill says

    Thanks for the tips. I am planning to self-publish my book with Amazon. The EIN number tips sure will help. But there are some problem. My country, Malaysia doesn’t have tax treaty with USA. How can I avoid paying US Tax on Royalties?


  1. […] 1.  Try looking at your manuscript from an objective point of view.  (This is not so easy because this is your baby after all!)  But if you look at your novel like a publisher would then you will likely see what they do.  Even if you have had friends or family members read your book and have given you excellent reviews they are all biased.  Only because they know you and like you already.  A stranger reading your novel for the first time is getting to know you through your writing.  Your voice needs to be unique and not annoying. ”The writer’s voice sells books. You don’t get there by selling one manuscript. It takes a lot of writing to find your rhythm. Steve sees glimpses of this in beginning manuscripts.” Read more: http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2010/11/14/editing-novel-steve-parolini/ […]

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