Working with an Editor

Working with an Editor

black and white closeup of dice

Working with an editor can feel like a dangerous roll of the dice… but fear not! CC image “noir” courtesy of Steve Johnson on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

A lot of my clients have questions about what this working relationship looks like. If you haven’t worked with an editor before, you might find the process mysterious and strange. We’re not mysterious and strange, really. At least, not all of us.

The main points for you to consider as you get ready to work with an editor are:

  • What you want done
  • When you want it done
  • What your prospective editor does and is good at
  • Your editor’s style

The workflow itself will vary slightly from editor to editor, but basic parameters apply. Below I look briefly at the preliminaries (the bullet points above), and then at the actual process (getting down to business).

Preliminaries: What to consider when choosing an editor

What you want done

Editing has several specific variations. (See posts here and here about two different types of editing; more posts will follow on this theme later.) Therefore, it’s helpful to be as specific as possible when you ask for work done.

If you aren’t sure of the specifics beyond the general knowledge that you want help with your book (or article, or blog post), refer to my first rule of thumb: ask. In order to give you feedback, an editor will likely request a sample of your work, and will also want to speak with you about your vision and goals for the project.

When you want the work done

Editing, just like writing, takes time. The sooner you can speak to your editor about work before a deadline you have, the better. Be aware that if you need work turned around in a very short period of time you may need to pay rush fees, which can substantially increase your costs.

Check with your editor about the timeline. How do your editor’s workflow and yours fit together? If you have a deadline, ask whether this is feasible. Remember that if you need to review your editor’s work in order to progress to the next step, your own timeline and availability are also important.

What your editor is good at

Once you know what you want done, you can check to see if this is something your editor does, and does well. Check their website, ask them via email or on the phone, or if you know someone who has done work with this editor before, ask them about their experience. This type of personal feedback is likely your most useful source of information.

Specialization is good. If you are working on a science fiction novel, you want someone who works in that genre. Likewise if you are working on a business book or memoir.

Your editor’s style

Do you want your editor to be a ruthless truth-teller, laying bare your manuscript’s shortcomings and suggested changes in a clinical way? Do you like working with someone who has a personal connection to your topic of interest? Would you prefer an editor who is ruminative; quick on their feet; sassy?

You have many qualified editors to choose from. Whose work style suits you best?

Getting down to business: Working with your editor

Every editor will need to review your work. The basic parameters include:

  • An initial review by the editor
  • Initial feedback or revision from the editor
  • Your review of the feedback

Depending on the type of editorial work, the process could end here. For example, proofreading can be just this simple.

If you are working on a content edit, this could be only the first of several reviews. Additional steps could include:

  • A consultation (perhaps by phone) with your editor, to discuss changes
  • The option for you to accept or reject certain changes
  • Additional review(s) by the editor, to verify your choices and additional changes you may have made

Confirm with your editor the details of the process for working with her or him. Confirm your editor’s expectations for the material they will receive. How polished or complete does your manuscript need to be? What should be included, what can wait?

Your editor may ask you for a sample of your manuscript before starting work. They should specify the length of the sample (how many pages/words). Unless you have a previous working relationship with this editor, they need to get a feel for your writing.

The bottom line

You need to make sure that your editor works for you on a personal level as well as professionally. Particularly if you are asking for an in-depth treatment of your manuscript, you will need to trust your editor’s care of your work.

Remember that if you are self-publishing, you will always have the right of veto. However, be careful with this. First find out WHY your editor made the suggestion. Once you have this information, you are better placed to make a judgement call.

Ask questions. Ask your colleagues and friends for referrals. Ask them for insight into how the editorial process worked for them. Interview your editor before beginning work together. I hope this clears up some of the mystery!

Thoughts, questions, comments, suggestions, and blarney (bonus points for wit):