Ask An Editor: Longform Writing (A DisCon III Panel)

In December of 2021, I had the opportunity to attend DisConIII. Here are my other DisCon posts.

The panelists for the titular panel were: George Jreije, Katherine Crighton, Navah Wolfe, and Trevor Quachri, with Joshua Bilmes as moderator.

The description for this panel was as follows:

What makes a good novel? How do you know it’s ready? Where should you send it and how should you respond to comments? This is your chance to ask burning questions to a panel of respected agents and editors.

As always, they didn’t answer all the questions in the description, but they shared some valuable insight.

Note: In this discussion, we’re mostly talking about acquiring Editors at publishing houses, not necessarily freelance editors, although many of the answers may be the same for both.

What Aspect of A Story is Most Important in Longform?

For every person, the answer was different, but these rose to the top:

  • characters that feel like real people – with consistent worldviews and reactions
  • are you saying something interesting with the story concept (although, more important with short form)
  • does the Editor want to read the next sentence?
  • a well-rounded cast — not just for the main character, but the antagonist, and the side characters

What Draws An Editor To A Manuscript?

  • A story that raises a question the reader wants answered — bonus if only important things are described and there’s an interesting magic system
  • Writing that feels award winning — and a story where the Editors feels they know how to fix it

How To Choose The Right Editor For Your Manuscript

Where can you find an Editors ?

Look at books with similar feels and genre shelving sections — then check the acknowledgments. That’s where you can find good ideas of who might be a good match for your works.

  • Who was the publisher?
  • Who was the Editor at the publishing house who championed the book?
  • Who was the agent that represented the book?

Since most publishers don’t accept unagented works, most writers are going to start with the agent.

For freelance editors, give a couple pages and get a sample edit, to see if their vision compliments your world.

To submit — query an agent, or respond to publisher’s open calls — but know that open calls are an even worse numbers game. For any length works, the agent or publisher’s website will hold the submission guidelines: be they via email, online form, or snail mail.

When it comes time to be offered that publishing contract by a publishing Editors, often, writers take the first Editor that shows interest. Be wary and protective of your manuscript. If it’s not a vision that jives with your writing, or makes you uncomfortable, they may be the wrong editor for you. As Navah said, matching with an editor isn’t the end of the writer’s fairytale, it’s the “once upon a time” of what is hopefully a beautiful working relationship. Be honest, protect your vision, but stay open-minded and wary of your own ego – a knee-jerk defensiveness is common. Selecting an agent is like a job interview — it goes both ways.

What Happens If You and Your Editor Are a Bad Fit?

It happens.

  1. In the majority of cases, both people are professionals. They grin and bear it, and get the job done.
  2. Rarely, a publisher will get involved, and reassign to another editor
  3. In exceptionally rare cases, the contract may be cancelled.

Do You Need a Polished Series?

Yes and no. You should have your manuscript as polished as you can get it, on your own and with the help of friends. But a good Editor will be able to take a good story and make it better.

Most editors are looking for standalone books. A strong story in and of itself. But, in speculative fiction, we do love our series. If the world or the characters make the readers want to visit the world again, and you’ve proven yourself to work well with your Editor, a series is often an option.

Note: For short fiction, serials are less popular. After a while, the backstory needed to make the story stand alone often gets too heavy.  Trevor pointed out that for, as Editor for Analog Science Fiction and Fact, he’s drawn to readability, nice prose, and a certain level of science-per-page, with the science being developed along with the story.

Do You Need An Agent?

While you might expect Editors to prefer to save the money of the agent’s fee, the industry currently accepts most submissions through agents. That way they know you have a contract specialist on your side and both sides feel less cheated. Plus, this way, you have your own business manager who can handle the trickier things.

Like, finding out your cover is crap — the agent knows how to negotiate that (or even tell if the Editor thinks Marketing’s cover idea is all wrong), and how to push for a better cover.

Does Being a Professional Editor Effect Fun Reading?


It can be hard to read in your own genre — or any genre. Sometimes reading old favorites can freshen the love of reading.

Sometimes, one has to make peace with and learn to love the analysis process that won’t go away.

Closing Thoughts

Be open and honest about what you need during the editing process.

Remember that it’s people all the way down — it might not be you, it might be them.

Solicit a lot of opinions.

Any advice they missed?


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