10 Tips for Working with an Editor

Working with an editor means putting your ego in your pocket.

Like most authors, I take pride in my work, but I learned many years ago that every word I write is not a pearl of wisdom. Better to think about editing like film production – where some of the best scenes end up on the cutting room floor.

I did find, however, that the writer-editor relationship is critical and can be made most comfortable through mutual respect and responsiveness. Here are a few tips:

  1. Make sure your copy is clean and readable before handing it over. Your editor is not there to decipher hand-written notes in the margin. Take the time to make those changes yourself. Always date (or if moving quickly, date and time-stamp) your versions. Label the file accordingly, adding your initials to anything you update. Insert page numbers for easy reference. (Numbers will be changed when final styling is done so don’t worry about that.) Save your files in multiple ways — desk top, external hard drive, USB stick, and email it to yourself.
  2. Talk to your editor at the outset about what you want to achieve: tell a story, cover an event, offer advice. This can help set the tone. Explain your target audience and market scope. That will influence word choice as to age, gender, and regional lingo.
  3. Use Track Changes for reviews. A good editor will flag manuscript areas that are confusing, have breaks in continuity, or lack clarity – for example, an editor might comment: “How did the couple end up in the living room when we last saw them outside? Is it correct to say, the character used a revolver at that date and time? (Check research) Didn’t your heroine have a limp in the beginning? If so, how could she sprint to the altar?”
  4. In response to a thorough editorial mark-up, the author will accept recommended changes or address each Comment. Remember, it’s OK for an author to push back, in which case, it’s helpful to provide a source link so the editor can confirm something they questioned.
  5. Tread lightly and expect the same in return. If nothing else, the process should be civilized. It’s preferable to have an editor suggest, “Might want to use the word ‘judicious’ rather than ‘careful’ to explain the lawyer’s nature” rather than say, “Find better word.” Likewise, it’s nicer to have an author say, “Great idea. Never thought of that” rather than, “No way. I did it how I wanted it. What are you talking about?”
  6. It’s a bonus when a beta-reader or story editor can catch a typo or misspelling, but that’s not their primary job. A “copy editor” will scrutinize spelling, grammar, and punctuation. A developmental editor will work at an even higher level, looking at the depth of characters and arc of the story before getting into the nitty-gritty.
  7. When stymied about how to rewrite a section or tackle stilted dialog, take a walk. Clear your head. Have a cup of coffee but do come back. It’s dangerous to get distracted.
  8. Return your edited manuscript to your editor, retaining comments in any areas you still question. Sometimes it’s good to talk about what is troubling. For example, does it make more sense for the character to ride into town or should they be walking? A decision like this can affect the pacing. You might ask each other, what is more important. Getting to the destination or giving your character time to think?
  9. Your editor can also guide you about Chapter structure. It’s easy to get caught up in writing and not think about the reading. What might be moving fast in your author’s mind could be terribly long for a reader who need a break. Unless you have a Table of Contents (as in a non-fiction book), it’s helpful to keep a list of Chapter numbers, names, and pages.
  10. Lastly, work with your editor and/or designer to envision how the book will look. Should there be a vintage map at the outset? Should the font feel classic or modern? Should there be Dingbats between sections that transition in time or place? Do you want a large, lead cap at the start of each Chapter? The more clarity you can offer in the beginning, the better the process will end.