Why an editor might decline a manuscript

Why would an editor turn down an editing project? Obviously, there’s the excitement of a new project, the income, and a new client that the editor might work with for several other projects. But many editors have another motivation: to work with a writer to make a manuscript the best it can be, and to make the writer the best that he or she can be.

What does an editor do?

An editor provides “outside insight”—the ability to tell when something doesn’t work and why, and to make suggestions.

So, again, why turn down a manuscript?

The major reason is that the manuscript isn’t ready for a professional edit—and it’s not ready for an agent or a publisher.

As anyone who’s written knows, a first draft is not a finished product. A first draft can be so far from the final draft that it looks like different works. But novice writers, eager to move on, often submit early drafts, without doing some hard editing themselves.

That first draft is definitively a work in progress—that’s progress, not completion. An editor can tell that the writer is missing some critical writing skills, and maybe doesn’t care to learn (or doesn’t understand how to move forward). So, the work required on early manuscripts often amounts to co-authoring or ghost writing, more than just editing.

What’s a writer to do?

At this point, an editor might point out areas that still need work and suggest some fixes and resources that might be useful for working on those fixes. An editor might also suggest some additional editing on the writer’s part, including some guidelines on how to self-edit. This assistance might be called writing coaching.

So, if you’re a writer, be specific about what you need at a given stage of your work. Do you really need an editor yet, or would a writing coach be more appropriate? Whomever you work with, be sure that they’ll be honest with you, both in terms of content and flow, as well as all the usual “dotting i’s and crossing t’s”.


Hopefully, this will give you some things to think about before you approach a freelance editor. Editors prefer to accept a manuscript or project, rather than having to turn it down. The goal is to assure that this and future works are the best that they can be. And maybe turning down a project will get to the writer’s goal more effectively, even if not most directly or speedily (at least in the writer’s eyes). So, writers, learn your craft. When you and your manuscript are ready, find an editor whose goals, strengths, and style fit with yours. That way, the two of you can produce a work that readers will be very satisfied and happy reading.

Copyright 2018 by Affordable Editing Services

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