How to fix your story: editing your manuscript will sell more books

Let me start out by saying something controversial: paying a lot of money to an editor before you publish is not always a great idea.

And this is why.

If you want to have a bestselling book, you need a book that satisfies readers. I’m not talking about “art” or “literature”. I don’t want to argue about “quality.”

But the truth is, the style of the writing doesn’t matter all that much. As long as it’s not full of spelling, grammar and punctuation errors that make it hard to understand, readers of most genres are looking for a good story. Non-fiction readers are looking to learn something.

Everybody is looking for content.

You can pay an editor to take your amateur writing and polish it up and make it amazing. They can do an incredible job. But it won’t boost sales.

Because they didn’t fix the story.

The story isn’t something editors can fix. They can help you tell your story better, but if they say “hey, this story isn’t going to sell, you need a new one,” you’ll probably tell them to fuck off.


Writing bestsellers and making money publishing isn’t rocket science: unless you’re trying to write poetry or memoir or literary fiction. If you’re writing for YOURSELF and not thinking about readers, if your aim is to finish the book you want to write instead of the one readers want to read, then you’re not in business.

You have a writing hobby. That’s fine. Writing is fun and challenging.

If you decide to use your skills to write books readers enjoy, then you’re in business. And personally, that’s the only time I would call you a serious, professional author. Not a hack. Not a sell-out. Someone who can create content that matters to be.

I don’t think writing a beautiful book that is obviously GREAT but doesn’t sell and actually loses the publisher money shouldn’t be the lofty goal of would-be writers (though it often is.)

Writing coach Larry Brooks recently wrote Story Fix – a book I adore because if it’s practical message to writers.

When a story succeeds, it is almost always indebted to some form and interpretation of knowledge – the conscious awareness of the elements that makes a story work. When a story doesn’t succeed, it is often because the writer is ignore of those elements. Or worse, defiant.

Write from the heart if you wish. But that will get you nowhere, and slowly, if your heart doesn’t know what it’s doing.

This partial picture of process suggests that you should ( as opposed to might) just write, just trust your gut, and let the story tell you what it needs. For the folks in the workshop audience, many of whom are sucking up this guidance as Holy Writ, this is is also among the worst writing advice ever given.

In Larry’s dealing with clients (and mine as well) the vast majority of writers simply didn’t chose a strong enough story to tell. Which means there is no way to make their book more successful through editing.

Unless you first start with a book like Story Fix or Story Grid, and fix your story. Do that before you spend money on editing. It’s brutally hard though. You’ll probably need to start over from scratch.

Editing isn’t your problem.  Writing better isn’t your problem. If you aren’t selling books and you want to be, you need to tell better stories. Define better? Stories that readers enjoy. Stories that work, because they follow story architecture that readers expect.

I made a free video course on self-editing to help you get started revising your own work. If you need more help than that, and just want a proofreader, editor or manuscript review, check out Book Butchers Editing.

Leave a Reply