Tactical Tuesday: Advice for Self-Editing

Recently, a friend asked me how an editor can tell that an author has found genuine “voice”?

That’s a deep and profound question.

I only wish I had a concrete answer.

The truth is, I cannot speak for all editors, because editing, like critique, or a reader's preference is subjective. This means that I come into the editing process predisposed to look at certain areas of the story. Many authors have heard it said that an editor can tell if the manuscript is right for them after the first five pages. Literary Agent, Noah Lukeman, wrote a book entitled: The First Five Pages in which he sets out those things that he looks for within the first five pages that tells him if the work is ready for publication. I can attest that his assessment is correct. In most cases, I can tell within the first five pages if I believe a work is ready. This has mainly to do with mechanics.

However, on a few occasions, an author’s voice has shined through to me in my review of submissions, and despite a lack of mechanics, I read a little further. If that voice continues to resonate with me, I continue deeper and deeper into the story. If that voice is like the Pied Pier for me, and I finish the story, I’m more than likely going to ask for a contract. I cannot give you a definition of “voice” or how I recognize it. I hear it when I read it. It’s like beautiful music. It catches me and carries me away. Still, though, the music that carries me away in a novel might sound to another editor like someone playing out of tune.

I have an unpublished friend. If someone asked me to pick out her novels from among the works of ten other authors, I’d be able to do so. I can hear her reading the story to me. She writes in deep point of view without narrative telling, but she is there, and her words are beautiful. I recently met another author whose stories resonated with me. His voice carried me away into his stories.

Author John Otte is another writer whose voice blows me away. I’d never met John prior to reading his book, but the voice he lends to first person in his Failstate novels captured me and tuned me into young adult fiction, which I now love to review and acquire for Pelican's Watershed imprint. Tracy Bowman and Jenness Walker caught my attention from the first page of their novel Bliss and made me laugh from that page until the very last page. If I could describe what captures me as a reader about these unique authors, I might possibly make a lot of money. Voice is one question all writers would like to define, but it's as hard to tie down as the wind.

The truth is, voice is subjective. What resonates with one editor or reader does not resonate with another. This is true in all arenas of writing…from the creation stage (what type of stories do you, the writer, like to write?), through critique (do all your critique partners always agree with you about the way your story is written?), submission (you have to find that editor who appreciates your voice), and even marketing (not every reader will like what you present). Different voices draw the attention of different people.

My suggestion for any author attempting to capture the magic of “voice” is to allow himself the freedom to roam among the pages. This does not in any way mean that a work of fiction should have an ounce of author intrusion. When an author puts a little of his heart into each character, I truly believe a unique voice will shine through.

Happy editing.


  1. Thank you, Fay, for your insightful post on voice. As you imply, voice is an intangible, yet powerful, element of storytelling. It is what identifies a story as having been written by a particular author. I like to think of voice as the author's soul resonating in the author's words. Like the wind, voice is difficult to grasp but powerfully present, nonetheless.



  2. I so want this to be me...the voice that captivates...

  3. I remember hearing a a speaker at a conference tell the writers there that it was presumptuous for any of us to him that we wrote like Author X. We don't. In fact, we write like ourselves.

    Finding voice has to do with the author trusting his/her skill enough to let go of what others write or say, and write from the depth of our soul. Eventually, the words will ring true. That is, the writing will be in consonance with the passion.

    What Fay referred to ("I hear it when I read it") is having a reader like herself be in that same consonance. It's much like musical notes combining to form an harmonic chord. Truth will always out.

    Thanks, Fay, for your explanation.