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How to Have a Professional Relationship with Your Editor

How to Have a Professional Relationship with Your Editor 1024 576 Reader Views

by Sheri Hoyte, Managing Editor, Reader Views

Good authors need good editors. Finding and having a good relationship with them is in the interest of the book’s success. A good editor will be professional with an author’s work, while a good author will know how to treat the editor with courtesy and respect.

A well-edited book can make a tremendous difference to a book’s success. So, it is a given that an author and an editor must have a good working relationship.

We’ve all heard horror stories from both editors and authors about their relationships. While an editor must be objective and professional in his criticism of an author’s book, many authors do not know how to be professional in terms of working with an editor because they are new to the experience and don’t know what to expect from the relationship.

Here are a few guidelines for authors when working with an editor, to ensure you both have a satisfying and successful relationship that, in the end, will produce a book to make you both proud.

Remember, You’re Not the Editor’s Only Client

I once heard about an author contacting editors asking them to expedite editing his book so he could publish it within three weeks’ time. Now I know you don’t really think your prospective editor has nothing else to do except edit your book, right? Because if they don’t, chances are they are not a very good editor.

The time to look for an editor is when your book is nearly complete. You should have the manuscript completed overall, with maybe just a few tweaks left to make. Ask the editor to do a sample edit of a few pages so you get a feel for their style and they can get an idea of what will be required to edit the book, and be able to give you a price quote for the work. You can’t expect an editor to quote you a price for a half-written manuscript, and if an editor does give you a quote without having seen the whole book, they are either a novice who’s going to end up overcharging you, or more likely charging less than they should and regretting it; or they are desperate for work, in which case, it might be prudent to look elsewhere.

Ask the editor what their timeline and schedule are like, how long they think it will take to edit the book, and then plan accordingly. It is not unreasonable to expect to wait a few weeks before an editor can start on your book and to expect the overall editing and proofreading process to take a month or longer once the work begins. Some variation will exist depending on the length of the book, how good of a writer you are, and how many other projects the editor has to work on.

Don’t Hand Over a Mess

When you ask an editor for a price quote, you should send a complete manuscript to the editor. Be sure your manuscript is together in one piece. If you are undecided about where something should go, put it in the best place possible, and then send along a note to the editor expressing any concerns you have about content, organization, plot, etc.

Make sure you send a document the editor can edit. Word is the easiest program to use for editing books but some prefer PDFs or other formats.

Be Clear About Your Expectations

Do you want the editor only to edit the book, or do you want him to proofread it also? Do you need the editor to help you with writing the back cover, marketing materials, a press release, and text for your website? Most editors will edit your book and that is it. You may want to hire a marketing person or publicist for the rest of those items, but if you want your editor to help you with these items, let them know upfront so they can include that work in their quote or charge you hourly for it. Don’t expect them to keep doing extra little favors for free after the book is edited. Their time is as valuable as yours and they most likely have other clients as well.

Be Responsible for Your Share of the Workload

Your editor may be a talented writer, but don’t expect them to write your book. And don’t expect them to rewrite it. They will rewrite sentences as needed, but they shouldn’t have to write chapters or sections for you. (If you need that kind of work, you need to hire a ghostwriter, which  will generally cost you more than an editor, and even then, you should have someone else edit the ghostwriter’s work). Nor should you expect your editor to fix everything without consulting you. Your editor will send you back your book so you can do revisions. It’s your book and you need to be responsible for doing any rewriting necessary as well as making decisions about whether or not to take the editor’s suggestions. The editor can then edit your rewrites. If the editor helps you with a press release, the text for the book cover, or website, the same case holds—the editor can edit that text, but you as the author need to be responsible for writing it.

Respect Your Editor’s Time

By this point, you probably realize you are not the editor’s only client since they probably didn’t start editing your book the day you first contacted them. Your editor is busy—busy working on your book, or busy working on another book so they can get to working on your book. Be polite and respectful of their time.

Ask your editor how they prefer to communicate with you. If you need to call them on the phone, email them first to set up an appointment, or make a brief call to ask them when would be a good time to talk. Be mindful of their personal time. Don’t call or expect them to work on your book on the weekends or in the evening, and if they are in another time zone, remember that as well before you call them too early or too late in the day. No, 10 o’clock on Monday night is not a good time to discuss why you want to keep the split infinitives in your book—no time is a good time to discuss that anyway—but certainly not 10 o’clock on Monday night.

Keep Your End of the Bargain 

When payment is agreed upon, keep up your end of the bargain. Put the check in the mail when you say you will. If you’ve agreed to make multiple payments, then stick to the payment schedule. Your editor can’t be expected to do a good job on your book when he has to wonder whether he’s going to be able to make his mortgage payment because you didn’t pay him.

Also, be mindful of your editor’s schedule when you do revisions. If they kept to their timeframe for the initial editing, then let them know when you’ll be able to get your revisions back to them. If you tell them a week, then try to keep to that. Your editor most likely will have one or more other books to work on while you’re making revisions, so giving them a general timeline for completing your end of the work will allow them to plan ahead and juggle the other books they are working on for other authors.

These simple guidelines will help you develop a professional and lasting relationship with your editor, a relationship that will ensure your book is the best it can be.

I’d love to hear about your experiences working with editors.

6 comments
  • Jo-Ann Vega

    Reader view response blog 1/23/23 How to work with an editor
    Yes, yes, yes, to your tips Sheri, starting with submitting your best work, not your first draft, to an editor. It was eye-opening to learn, first-hand, how important it is to work with an editor trained as a copy-editor, not a writer who comes to it as a wordsmith, i.e., a developmental editor.

    After I completed my final draft and researched the publishing process I prepared a Request for copy editing and sent it to five freelancers. Here’s selected information from the request.

    Request for copy editing
    I researched the Editorial Freelancers Association website and found your name and bio. I’m hoping we are a good fit to work together. To begin, I’d like a sample copy edit of 5 double-spaced pages of manuscript to be completed no later than 1-week after acceptance of the freelance job. Pay rate: $40.00.
    Job information: I’m seeking a deadline-oriented copy editor to correct spelling, grammar, usage, punctuation, and references [APA] for a non-fiction manuscript [memoir] approximately 69,500 words in length.

    Four responded. I sent a sample for copy-editing to three. Each had their own style. Only one did what I asked for in the Request. When I received the proposed contract it included fees, services, expectations, and questions about what my writing concerns were, the state of the manuscript, and what my background was.

    I knew from my consulting experience that working with professionals you hire is a collaborative team effort. My job wasn’t to supervise them; professionals supervise themselves. Taking time upfront to agree on the parameters of the work and each other’s responsibilities greased the way for a smooth and timely process.

    While I didn’t believe I needed help with the narrative arc, my heart crashed the first time I saw all the editing marks. Could I really have made all those mistakes? After I calmed down, took a closer look, and familiarized myself with the software, I realized I agreed with most of the suggestions/corrections. My intuition that I needed help with grammar was confirmed! I didn’t enjoy the tedium of making the corrections but the process improved my writing, resulted in a polished manuscript, and reduced the direct costs involved in self-publishing.

    Selecting and working with a professional copy-editor before I submitted my polished manuscript to the Publisher was one of the best decisions I made. Have your manuscript edited by a professional, not a friend, family member, or associate. Even the best at their craft benefit from a skilled editor, whether developmental, copy, line, or proofreading. If you read the Acknowledgements in the back of books authors generally wax poetic about how important their editor was to their efforts. They are not kidding!

    • Reader Views

      Hi Jo-Ann. Thank you for sharing your experience. There is a lot of good information in here authors! While everyone dreads the inevitable editing marks, I’ve found if delivered with proper documentation as to “why” the suggestions are being proposed, the whole process becomes an invaluable learning opportunity for all involved.

  • Hilton Moore

    Thanks for the heads up on improving the results and interactions with an editor. As writers we have much to learn. I personally enjoy the back and forth of the editorial process. Thanks again.

  • Tyler Tichelaar

    Excellent article. I couldn’t have described it better myself. As an editor, I do everything I can to help my clients produce professional books, but the author has to be responsible on their own end. I’m always happy to reword or fix punctuation or grammar, but it’s best if the author writes their own cover description, sales pieces, etc. so we capture their tone and then I can tweak. And yes, a good editor is very busy. You don’t expect a doctor to see you right away, and a doctor spends an hour at most with a patient. An editor can easily spend 20, 40, or more hours on one client’s book and I often have a waiting list of 3-4 weeks out, but I’ll always get back to an author with a sample edit within 1-2 business days.

    • Reader Views

      Thanks, Tyler. As always your thoughts are spot on. Love the doctor analogy, by the way. As editors, and authors we would do well to value our work (and time) much like any other in the professional world.

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