To the Owner of the Manuscript I Just Massacred.

Please, stop crying. People are staring.

David Pennington
Sep 1, 2020 · 4 min read

Hey Milton,

Listen, before you freak out, just listen. This is for the best. What happened to your manuscript over the past few weeks, it had to be this way. You get that, right?

I’m only putting this out there because first-time authors freak out when they open up the document I sent back to them, the one with all of the tracked changes. It is usually a mass of pulp, dripping with red ink like freshly smashed roadkill. Of course, it’s not ink. Everything is digital — less mess.

But it’s still a mess. All those red lines of corrections and suggested edits and notes in the margin? Those are how we clean up the mess.

Yes, we. You and I together. That’s why I’m here -to be your wingman, your teammate.

As the writer, you are fully invested in protecting the integrity of your story. As you should be. Hell, no one else is going to do it. As your editor, I’m here to guard the sanity of your readers. They are your audience, after all, the people you want reading your story.

I mean, you do want people to read this, right? Why else are we bothering? Those people are expecting the most out of your prolific, brilliant, storytelling-ass. They want top-notch delivery. Everything has to be in its place because they want to fall in love with your work and, in turn, with you.

Maybe this wasn’t what you were expecting. I get that. I have dozens of writers a year approach me with their freshly-printed manuscripts looking for an edit. I know they each expect a grammar and spelling check. No typos! That would be embarrassing.

I don’t even get to the grammar. Not when there are plot holes to fix. Not when characters have different hair colors from one chapter to the next (and not on purpose!). Not when every sentence and paragraph is structured the same. Forget grammar; we need to get the story right. We need to get your ideas in order.

If we can get the story right, then I will do a spell-check before this goes to press — pinkie promise.

Trust me; this is for the best. You’ve been married to this manuscript for months, even years, and you’re just too close to it to make the best decisions. You no longer see the flaws and the problems that have crept in. Sort of like how your spouse starts sneaking out little farts around the house, and eventually, you have no issue with full-blown, post-tikka masala flatulence in the bed you share as you both scroll through your phones before bed.

All I’ve done is show your readers the sexy, charming version of your spouse you fell in love with before the out-of-control gas and clipping-toenails-with-their-teeth monster showed up. You don’t see this stuff, but I do, which means the reader will.

Trust me on this.

I’ve spent the last 30 years reading — it is the backbone of my career. Every single year I put away dozens of books, hundreds of articles, and millions of text messages and headlines. There is so much crap out there on the internet that is half-baked and ill-executed it makes me want to scream, and more of it shows up every day! I’ve seen so much my grey matter is infinitely changed. I’m tuned into the bullshit. See enough of what the professionals put out, and you can smell when amateurs are trying to sneak through.

You’re not an amateur. I won’t let it happen on my watch.

I get it; you hate me. I won’t take it personally. History is riddled with writers who have grown to hate their editors. If you want a friend who will tell you what you want to hear, you might want to consult your agent.

For now, I’ll let you go and lick your wounds. There is a lot in the margins; take your time with it. There is no rush. Your readers will wait for something good — that’s how we keep them reading.

Within a week, we’ll either be laughing about all of this, or one of us will be dead — and I haven’t died yet.

With love and ink,

Your Editor

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David Pennington

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