What an Editor Does

When a person meets me for the first time and learns that I make my living as a literary editor, the first question he invariably asks is:

“What exactly is it that you do?”

The book I’m writing, The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know, and this website is the long answer.

The short answer is this:

When a manuscript that intrigues me arrives, I read it. I don’t take notes. I just read it. If I finish the entire book—twenty four times out of twenty-five, I’ll abandon it early on as the obvious work of an amateur—I will start to think seriously about its publishability. Does it work? Will it sell?

My editorial juices have started flowing now. Already I’m beginning to analyze and break down the manuscript’s narrative. My decades of experience are telling me where, more or less, the Story is working and where it is not.

So far my process is identical to that of every other professional editor. But now, at this stage, I’ll do something that no one else does.

I will run the manuscript through The Story Grid.

I’ll do this as deeply as necessary and as many times as necessary to identify the problems, to evolve suggested solutions, to hone the story and shape it and elevate it to the highest level of storytelling craft.

Over a twenty-five year career as an editor and independent publisher (as well as a writer, agent, and manager) I’ve used this method to bring hundreds of works from raw manuscripts into A-level published fiction and non-fiction. Books that I have edited and published have grossed more than a hundred and fifty million dollars in North America alone. But more importantly, these books have changed people. They’ve changed the lives of readers and they’ve revolutionized the lives of the writers who authored them.

The Story Grid is a tool. It’s a technique. It can’t make something out of nothing, but it can make something out of almost-something, out of not-quite-something, out of two-inches-away-from-something. And it can inspire a work from idea to first draft.

What The Story Grid offers is a way for you, the writer, to evaluate whether or not your Story is working at the level of a publishable professional. If it is, The Story Grid will make it even better. If it isn’t, The Story Grid will show you where and why it isn’t working—and how to fix what’s broken.

What follows in the days, weeks, months and years to come is how you can become your own editor.

For new subscribers and OCD Story nerds like myself, all of The Story Grid posts are now in order on the right hand side column of the home page beneath the subscription shout-out.

14 comments on “What an Editor Does

  1. Beth Barany says:

    I can’t wait! Thank you, Shawn!

  2. Jennette says:

    Just finished reading your “Small Press Conundrum.” I’m just about finished the rough of my first novel and needless to say, the Storygrid is exactly what I need. Thanks so much! I look forward to exciting learning.

  3. I love it. Looking forward to being in touch with your work!

  4. Lauren R Giannini says:

    Okay, waiting with bated breath for Story Grid — write on, please! Do you have a proposed launch date? I’ll pre-purchase – just tell me where and when!!! Found you at Steven Pressfield Online. I read a lot, and I’m totally into the concept of screenplays, because I write visually in my genres, but I have yet to publish a novel or a non-fiction book. All that is about to change – I see a transition from freelance writer to author and it’s about time. Thank you for story grid and for sharing years of experience. After all, we’re all along in this together!

    1. Lauren R Giannini says:

      not along, alone!!! wish there were an option to edit comments!

  5. Eilis Crean says:

    Where can I see the Story Grid?

    1. Shawn Coyne says:

      Hi Ellis,
      I’ll take a photo of one I put together for The Silence of the Lambs and post it within the next couple of hours. It’s the same one I showed Steven Pressfield. He comments about it today on his blog at http://www.stevenpressfield.com. It may not mean much at this point as I haven’t delivered the background necessary to track the information, but it should give you a sense of what my Editorial method is all about. There is a very long road ahead before you’ll be able to teach yourself how to create the same schematic for your own work (or for any novel and/or narrative nonfiction for that matter), but there is a very systematic approach that I will teach here over the next weeks, months and years to come. Stay tuned.
      All the best,

      1. Steve says:

        Can’t wait…..

  6. Will Douglas says:

    Cliffhanger. Quit the day job and teach The Grid. Regards from the Old Country.

  7. Judy Potocki says:

    I can’t wait to learn from you. Thanks ever so much.

  8. Carol Malone says:

    As a newbie editor, I’m always interested in learning the art of editing to help and encourage story writers. The Storygrid sounds like my cup of tea. I can’t wait to read from, and learn from it’s pages. One of the previous commenters, Beth Barany, is my creativity coach and I’m apprenticing with her. We both are enthralled by the premise of your book and can’t wait to get our hands on it. Will you be doing a pre-release to notify your hungry audience?

    Thank you for sharing your gifts.

    1. Shawn Coyne says:

      Absolutely Carol. As soon as the book’s ready for prime time, everyone here will get the first shot. Thanks for joining!

  9. rvknox says:

    Shawn, I bought the kindle version of your book, but will probably get the print one too. It’s excellent and I wish I’d had it before I sent my first novel off to be published, then it wouldn’t be such an embarrassment to me now! My latest novel clearly wasn’t working and I was ready to bin it because I’d had enough of editing it over and over. It wasn’t the writing so much as structural issues that I couldn’t see. I actually really enjoyed drawing the graph onto the story grid after mapping it all out. And I now have a list of problems with the novel, so I can see what to work on which is such a gift. I will always use it from now on. It’s also good for writing out the dreaded synopsis as you go along. So I’ve gone from feeling defeated to inspired. Thanks!

    1. Shawn Coyne says:

      Great to read. This is why I’m here and why I wrote the book!

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