What an Editor Does

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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.

Download the Math of Storytelling Infographic

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Shawn Coyne

SHAWN COYNE created, developed, and expanded the story analysis and problem-solving methodology The Story Grid throughout his quarter-century-plus book publishing career. A seasoned story editor, book publisher and ghostwriter, Coyne has also co-authored The Ones Who Hit the Hardest: The Steelers, The Cowboys, the ’70s and the Fight For America’s Soul with Chad Millman and Cognitive Dominance: A Brain Surgeon’s Quest to Out-Think Fear with Mark McLaughlin, M.D. With his friend and editorial client Steven Pressfield, Coyne runs Black Irish Entertainment LLC, publisher of the cult classic book The War of Art. With his friend and editorial client Tim Grahl, Coyne oversees the Story Grid Universe, LLC, which includes Story Grid University and Story Grid Publishing.