Editing tips for authors from Nancy McCurry's interview

Nancy McCurry is a self-employed professional editor who knows publishing inside and out.

She's the owner of All About Books, a company that provides professional editing services to both fiction and nonfiction writers. In this exclusive interview, Nancy offers a insider's look into the how editors help authors become successfully published.


At the age of four, Nancy McCurry was anxious to start school. An inveterate reader since she was a small child, Ms. McCurry has spent most of her life acquiring knowledge. In her own words, she's spent "over 40 years taking college courses on a variety of topics ranging from art and anthropology to the sciences."

She holds an MFA degree from Goddard College and has served on the boards of directors of various companies throughout her career.

Why authors need editors

Every writer who aspires to publish their work to a broad audience requires the services of a professional editor.

Writers are often very protective of their work, but Nancy explained how--and why--authors need editors who get get outside of their book and look at it in objectively.

According to Ms. McCurry, writers must understand that "it is impossible to look at one's work with a completely unbiased view. A writer writes what they think, but a reader sees something else--every time."

Honor thy readers

Nancy emphasized the importance of considering the reader's perspective at all times. As she concluded, "the bottom line in published writing is to honor the reader."

2 phases to writing

She described how every project involves 2 phases to every piece--a creative aspect and the revision phase.

The creative aspect, involves "standing inside your story," looking around, and trying to find the story in your mind.

The second, equally important phase, involves revisingor, literally, to "re-seeing" the story on paper.

The myth of self-editing

Many writers, especially those who are accomplished grammarians and who may have had many years of writing experience, often question the need for an editor.

In Nancy's view, it's impossible to copyedit one's work. "It doesn't matter if you have five Ph.D. degrees," she says. "Everyone needs a copyeditor."

Critiquing versus editing

There is a difference between a critiquing a work and editing it.

When she critique a project, she reads it from front to back and records what she calls "strike points." These are items that strike her while she's reading. At the end of the critique, she will have recorded an overall view of the book that will answer several questions: Was it well written? Do I understand the premise? Did it change me?

This last question--Did it change me?--is what she calls "her anchor" when reading a book.

Every book should change a reader's view on something--no matter how insignificantly. It should be the cornerstone and intention of every manuscript, particularly those in the area of "informative nonfiction."

The structure of success

Nancy offered an interesting perspective on the writing process. "There are three pieces to a book in the framework of mythic structure," she says.

The first piece is the opening 25 percent, the second is the middle half of the work, and the last piece is the remaining 25 percent.

The middle piece--half of the book--is the struggle. "It is why we read." At the center of every story, there is agony, hence the terms protagonist and antagonist.

Structure for nonfiction books

Nancy offered some specific tips for structuring a nonfiction book.

A table on contents is vital. Potential buyers will spend mere seconds perusing a book in a store or online. In that brief time, the book should sell itself to the readers.

A well-structured table of contents should be the hallmark of every nonfiction work, and it should enable to reader to answer these questions: Is this the book I need? Does it show a lucid progression? Are the chapter headings what I expected to see? Does the book offer all the information I want?

Peer reviews

In response to an excellent question about when nonfiction writers should seek the services of an editor, she says that all work should undergo a "peer review."

Authors of real estate investment books, for example, should show their work to experts in the real estate industry. But, equally important, they should let someone who knows nothing about the real estate read the book.

The author should then ask the reader: What did you learn? The work should inform the reader and it should never waste a reader's time.

Ms. McCurry brings a lifetime of experience to the craft of editing and her advice in this interview is invaluable to every writer, regardless of one's experience or the type of writing they're interested in.

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