Realistic Expectations: What might a book editor expect from you?

MichelleOn Writing, UncategorizedLeave a Comment

Last week I talked about what you should look for in a fiction book editor once you’ve finished your manuscript and are ready to shop around. There’s another side to that though. Preparing yourself to work with an editor takes time and consideration. And the more prepared you are, the more time you’ll save right off the bat—not to mention money!—and the more efficient both you and your editor will be once you start working together.

Here are some things a good book editor may (should!) expect from you, the author:

1. Have your first draft completed.

I can’t stress this point enough. Remember King’s advice? Write the first draft with the door closed; rewrite with the door open. That door should be kept closed, not just to separate your first-draft work from the eyes (and opinions!) of your friends and family, but from professionals as well. For your own peace of mind, and to make sure the first draft gets finished at all, wait until it’s done before asking for advice—anyone’s advice.

Having your first draft completed is also the first display of respect you can show to your editor. Upon submitting it to an editor, your manuscript should be reflective of your highest ability, your strongest effort, to save both your time and hers. Completing the manuscript is also the surest way to maintain the “organicness” of your project. The more your editor has to alter or add, the more your work becomes a reflection of her style, not yours.

2. Be open-minded.

If she’s any good, the book editor you choose may have some pretty good ideas for your manuscript. She may also challenge you at times. Maybe your main character’s motivation doesn’t quite “work” or the genre and style do not sing well together. Maybe the narrator’s voice has a tendency to shift from scene to scene, or perhaps the structure of the story needs some tweaking.

Maybe the central conflict is, I hate to say it…boring.

Your editor should criticize gently, with enough knowledge of the craft and the industry to offer sound advice. Stay true to your story, but be open-minded to new ideas, and be ready for your editor’s criticism. Yes, your manuscript should be the product of your best work when you submit it; no, that doesn’t mean it’s perfect.

An open dialogue with your editor, and a mutual respect for one another, is absolutely vital if you’re going to work well together. Pay attention to how she communicates with you in the very beginning, and listen to your gut. Is she someone who’s opinion you can trust?

3. Prepare to rewrite.

So you finished your first draft. Congratulations, your job is done!

Well…not quite.

After your editor returns to you with all that lovely criticism we talked about, it’s your turn to work again. Your manuscript may be ready to publish with just some minor tweaking here and there, or it may be in need of a complete overhaul. Be prepared to be just getting started.

At a lecture this week, Marcus Zusak discussed his most recent novel, The Book Thief, which was his fourth work and a huge success—to say the least. But even for an experienced, successful, full-time author, it took him several drafts and over three years to finish the manuscript. When asked if he had any advice for new authors, Zusak said, simply, “Don’t be too hard on yourself.”

Writing a book takes an enormous amount of time and effort, but whether your book becomes a bestseller or just a favorite among your friends, I think we can all agree: In the end, it’s totally worth it.

Unsure about whether you’re ready for an editor or not? Send me a message at, and I’d be happy to have a conversation.

Happy writing!


“Courage is grace under pressure.” | Ernest Hemingway

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