Why Skimping on Macro Editing Could Cost You Readers

Macro edits are critically important. (Also known as rewrites, developmental edits, substantive edits, or content edits.) This type of edit is the first a writer should make in the three stages of editing. (Read more about the three stages of editing here or here.)

I like to refer to the macro edit stage as rewriting. I think the term sufficiently sums up the entire process, which involves analyzing the big picture elements of our stories and rewriting, adding, or deleting major parts in order to make the story more appealing to readers.

Last week, my publisher sent me macro edits for my book, A Noble Groom, releasing next spring. When I saw my editor’s email pop up in my inbox, I froze.

Even though I’d been expecting the rewrite notes, I was still overcome with fear. What would I find when I opened the document? Where had I fallen short with the story?

My editor wouldn’t be sending me pages of praise. Flattery wouldn’t help me. Only the complete, honest truth about what needed improvement would benefit my story.

Ultimately I knew that. But still, that knowledge has never made the initial rewrite experience any easier. It’s always hard to take criticism of a story you’ve carefully researched, crafted, and labored over for months.

It took me a couple of hours to work up the courage to open the email from Luke, my editor. I’m grateful he began his notes with a few words of praise and encouragement along with this sentence: "Thanks so much in advance for your hard work and willingness to revisit the manuscript, to do what you can to improve the story as much as possible for the sake of your loyal readers." (Emphasis mine)

That sentence was an incredible reminder that I’m striving to make my STORY the best it can be for the sake of my loyal readers. Readers care most about the STORY. And the macro level stage of editing is where we carefully analyze all of those story elements that can make or break a book.

For this particular book (A Noble Groom), FOUR talented Bethany House editors had read through the manuscript, made notes, and then decided which areas most needed my attention. The notes were about 6 pages long and consisted of things like:

*The hero needs to have a stronger character arc. There needs to be more at stake for him.
*The emotional (friendship) part of the hero/heroine relationship needs to be deepened.
*The villain’s threats need to be spaced more consistently.
*The ‘ticking clock’ needs to be more of a factor than it is.

Those are just a snippet of the things that all of the editors pointed out. As you can see, they’re larger story elements and won’t be easy to fix. The edits will require many weeks of chopping, pasting, adding and deleting. That’s why the term rewriting is so appropriate, because essentially that’s what I’m doing.

No matter how many times I get a set of rewrites, they always knock me off my feet. In fact, I’ve been known to have major melt-downs, to decide I’m not cut out to be a writer, then assuage my depression by eating large quantities of chocolate.

Fortunately, this time, I put on my big girl panties much faster than in the past. A further email from my editor helped lift me up. Luke said this:

I’ve learned over the years that for even the best of writers out there, almost all of their first (rough) drafts have serious issues which need to be dealt with, head-on, unflinching. In that way, writing and especially rewriting—the persistent back and forth, applying a lot of patience and love—is much like the art of sculpting. It’s physical, mental, emotional, spiritual . . . as you carve, chisel, shape, sand and polish what you’ve created into something good and beautiful and truthful.”

Beautiful analogy, isn’t it?

The point is this: Without the macro-edit, I could spiff up my story, get rid of adverbs, tighten my dialog, and make sure I’ve included sensory details, etc., etc., etc. (all the things that come with line and copy edits). But what good would all of that do if I’ve neglected to shape the story itself.

If we skip the macro edits, then we’re neglecting the sculpting part of the process, the chipping away, the molding, the plying. If we move directly to the line and copy editing stages, then we’re polishing a lump of clay.

We win over our readers by a well-told story. So don’t skimp on the macro-edits. Get the big-picture feedback (particularly from people who are qualified to give it). Sculpt the story into a lovely work of art before polishing it with the other edits.

How about you? How important have macro edits been in your editing process? Are you taking enough time to shape your story before starting the polishing?

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