I’m working on a new series of educational books for readers at the 2nd grade level. I do a lot of these series—it’s an age level I really enjoy writing for, and a publisher I truly enjoy working with! But, as often happens because of the work flow within the publishing house, I was recently juggled from one editor to another mid-series, and that always requires a little bit of an adjustment on my end. It’s like the adjustment you have to make when there’s a long-term detour on your regular route: it takes a while to get used to the potholes and tricky turns on that new route.
When I handed in the first three manuscripts for this series to the original editor, she requested almost no rewriting—tweaks, but nothing that felt substantial. But when I heard back from the new editor for the fourth manuscript late last week, she was requesting what felt like a ton of rewriting. Now, I’ve been doing this long enough to recognize that the major difference in the first edits of these four manuscripts (“this is great” vs. “boy, does this need work”) could be all me and not the new editor. I had a really busy couple of weeks leading up to the fourth book deadline, and it’s absolutely possible that my work on this first draft was simply not as good as on the earlier titles. The moral of this story is NOT that the new editor is wrong!
But the situation did remind me of something that I think can be really helpful for writers who are feeling discouraged by the submission process: think of it as “beauty is in the eye of the editor.” Editors are individual human being with individual tastes, approaches, and visions for the books they work so diligently to help create. Two different editors can see the same manuscript and have completely different reactions to it. In other words, one editor’s opinion is one editor’s opinion—not the final word on your manuscript’s worthiness.
In fact, one of my students told me that she attended a conference where an editor confessed to having rejected the first book in the Harry Potter series. Editors are not one-size-fits-all, and it may take you a while to find the editor who is the “right” size for your manuscript.
One caveat here: I’m not suggesting that you don’t have to do your job as a writer! In fact, you must do your job brilliantly. You shouldn’t even be submitting your work unless it is absolutely the best writing you are capable of—and even then, there are no guarantees. Even an editor who loves it might not believe it has enough marketplace potential to be able to take a risk on publishing it.
But if you have done your job, and written and revised until your work is absolutely stellar, then here is the moral of this story: your work may be rejected once, or ten times, or even fifty times, before it finds the editor who will fall in love with it. If your manuscript is being regularly rejected, then you should take a hard look at it to make sure it doesn’t need more polishing. But if you find it is truly submission-ready, then don’t take those first few rejections as the final word.
There may yet be an editor out there who finds your manuscript beautiful. Or maybe an editor who sees it, thinks, “boy, does this need work”—and still wants to publish it anyway!