Understanding the Author-Editor Relationship: How to find a fantastic editor—and keep her!

MichelleOn Writing, UncategorizedLeave a Comment

It’s a recurring theme throughout all of my posts, and something you will hear time and again during your journey from first draft to published piece: the process of finding a great editor (that is, the right editor for you) should not be taken lightly. It’s important that she not only be skilled—educated, experienced, and continually fine-tuning her craft—but that the two of you work well together. Will she champion your work, and yourself as an author? Will she offer ideas for improvement that make sense, and actually help improve your manuscript? Do you feel empowered to ask her questions and seek her counsel—or do you dread pressing “send” with questions she may not respond kindly to, or in a timely manner? It’s important for both your success and hers that you find an editor you click with, and establish a solid working relationship from the get-go.

Establishing an Author-Editor Relationship

The amount of time you spend recruiting an editor depends largely on your needs as a writer. If your manuscript has been heavily self-edited and beta read by eagle-eyed readers, you may only need a proofread, or a copyedit at most. In addition, perhaps this is the only book you’re trying to publish. You may not be too concerned about how well you and your editor “jive” together, because your time with her will be short. It will still behoove you to do your homework—make sure she has the skills and experience required to properly edit your manuscript—and correspond with her or ask to speak on the phone to make sure you enjoy her personality. Ask for a short sample edit or a list of books she’s worked on. You may also ask for references or to see a list of testimonials. Even for “smaller” jobs like yours, your editor should be qualified, pleasant, and willing to communicate with you in detail about your project.

You may need to spend more time recruiting—that is, researching your editor, asking her questions, and having longer or more frequent meetings up front—if you need more substantive or long-term editing. Ask yourself the following:

  • Will I need help on multiple books?
  • Do I need assistance with publishing, formatting, and cover design in addition to editing?
  • Before editing, has my manuscript been translated from a language other than English?
  • Do I believe I have a good story, but don’t necessarily consider myself a great writer?
  • Will I seek ghostwriting in addition to editing for some parts of my book?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above, it is even more important that you establish a healthy and productive relationship with an editor who will advocate for you in the long-term.

Maintaining a Great Relationship with Your Editor

So, you’ve found an editor. How do you ensure the two of you will continue working well together? Not just pleasantly, but efficiently. Good author/editor relationships can make for clean, publishable manuscripts, but a GREAT relationship can help take your book—and by proxy, your career—to the next level. Don’t just enlist a so-so editor; partner with someone who “gets you” and is willing to go the extra mile for your work—then do your part to keep her cheering you on. Here are some ways to ensure your editor will love working with you.

  • Communicate your goals. Sure, she’s the expert, but no one knows your manuscript better than you. Tell her what you’re trying to say, so she can inform you if that vision is clear to readers. Tell her about your publishing goals, so she can cater her editing to ensure those goals are met. Maybe you’re a busy professional and would rather she didn’t email too much. Or perhaps you’d like updates from her after every chapter. Let her know! A good editor is flexible, and will cater to your needs in order to achieve mutual success.
  • Ask for clarification. Your editor is going to change some things. These could range from little tweaks to mile-high revisions. A good editor will stay in constant communication with you—if you want her to—and will know your comfort level as far as revisions (because you’ve communicated as much to her). She’ll keep you posted. During this time, don’t let anything stew. If you’re unsure of something she’s suggested, speak up! She will not be offended.
  • Demand mutual respect. How much you can respect your editor, and how much respect she has for you, should be evident from the very beginning. But if you’ve been working with her for a long time, one or both of you may start to feel too comfortable. A slip in respect from either party can damage the relationship and your work. If she doesn’t listen authentically to your concerns, it may be time to start looking for a new editor.
  • Be open. You might have been working on your project for several months or several years and may be reluctant to “kill your darlings.” A good editor knows the market—she knows what sells, what readers demand. She’s seen authors succeed, and authors fail. Leverage her expertise, and be open to the idea that some things in your manuscript may need to change in order for you to be successful.
  • Stand your ground. Every writer has a few things they just aren’t willing to compromise for the sake of “what’s hot” in the market, and that’s okay—fantastic, even! While it’s healthy to be open to new ideas for your manuscript, sweeping changes that compromise your artistic integrity should not be taken lightly. Take some time to mull over what your editor is saying. If you come to the conclusion that you aren’t comfortable making one or a few of her suggested changes, then stand your ground. She’s heard “no” before, and she respects you for it.

Are you ready for a professional edit? Are you unsure about how to find an editor, or have questions about the level of editing your manuscript requires? Send me an email and I’d be more than happy to discuss your project with you: michelle@mjbookeditor.com.

I wish you all a healthy and productive 2015. 🙂

Happy Writing!


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