Tips on Writing Your Lifestory, 12 of 12: Ernest Hemingway Did It 39 Times

Ernest Hemingway
12. Edit, edit, edit

How-to author and memoir-writing coach Sharon Lippincott: “Write like nobody will ever read it. Edit like the whole world will.”

Blogger Derbhile Dromey: "Good editing is a bit like gardening. You cut back the dead wood to allow the flowers to bloom."

Author Jeff Goins: "It’s never beautiful at the outset. Before your work can reach its potential, it will first have to be bad."

Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) said he rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms thirty-nine times, “To get the words right.”

These experts are saying simple proofreading is not enough. Your computer’s spellchecker will find some spelling and grammar errors—not all of which you will agree are errors—but it will not help find your emotional story. You will have to reread your manuscript several times and rewrite sections several times in order to get satisfying results your audience will want to read. 

Profile of a book editor
Long ago in a galaxy far away, staff book editors were an essential part of traditional publishing at the big publishing houses. Their job was to take a manuscript with potential and polish it into a sales-ready product. Not anymore. With the explosion of self-publishing and print-on-demand vendors anyone without a lick of sense can become a published author. Publishers are more discriminating in what they will consider. Authors no longer can expect publishers to clean-up their manuscripts. In order to get past the gatekeepers of traditional publishing, authors have to have more than a great story; they must submit manuscripts that need little or no fixing.

A professional book editor may:
  1. Check for spelling and grammar errors.
  2. Spot conflicting sections.
  3. Identify sections needing improved flow and feel of the story.
  4. Flag facts that need checking. 
  5. Prepare an index.
  6. Design the interior including layout, font and text size.
  7. Select illustrations.
  8. Secure permissions for using material from other sources.
Some of these require individual expertise and teams of editors may work on the process. With few exceptions you are expected to do these tasks, or see they get done, before you submit your manuscript. 

How to find an editor
Ask your librarian for the name and contact person of a writers’ group near you. One or more professional editors may be members of the group. Ask for credentials and references.

Talk with the head of the English department at a college or university in your area. Some institutions have literary publishing divisions whose staff may be available for outside editing work, or they could recommend a contractor with whom they have had success. If a student or college employee is suggested be sure their skills and results can be proven.

Search the web for freelance editors. Talk with them and get references of satisfied and unsatisfied customers.

Galleycat lists Best Book Editors on Twitter, with links to and comments from the editors.

A directory of professional associations for editors is at Editors Only.

Editing fees vary with skills and experiences of editors and the amount of work they do. Some charge by the project, page, or hour. The Editorial Freelancers Association lists common editorial rates.

Photo courtesy

What solutions have you found work best for your editing issues?


  1. Wayne,

    A word of thanks for this series of posts. I may not have left a comment on each one but appreciated the time and effort you put into them. I found something of value every time I read your words, and these posts have been stored safely away on Evernote to be referenced again and again.


  2. A very nice series. Love this last one. Editing is under-appreciated, to be sure. ~Karen

  3. Thanks Sherrey and Karen. In today's print-on-demand environment it is way too easy for authors to slap together something and publish it quickly, making them look amateurish. My advice is to resist the urge and to do it right. Lots of expert help is available on the web and in local writers' groups.