Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Six Steps to Maximize Your Relationship with Your Editor

Jessica Klassen is a freelance editor who works with authors to make their manuscripts publication-ready. She believes a good story can do more than entertain: it can enlighten and inspire. To learn more about Jessica’s editing services, visit her website at

So, you’ve hired an editor. You slogged through websites and forums, perused testimonials and samples, and finally settled on someone. And now, the real work can begin. Many first-time authors are unprepared for the vigour of an edit, and can feel overwhelmed or frustrated with the process. So, in order to maximize your relationship with you editor—and thereby improve the final product—consider following these six steps.

1. Be clear about which services you want

Now that you’ve hired someone, it’s time to decide what you want them to do for you. There are several levels of editing a freelancer can perform, and unfortunately, many writers confuse them. While most editors are aware of this lack of understanding among writers, a miscommunication of your desired services can lead to delays and hidden costs. So educate yourself , and think objectively about what your manuscript really needs. In my experience, it is a rare writer who can go without all three stages of editing: structural, stylistic, and copy editing. Asking your editor what services she would suggest is a good way to evaluate what your manuscript needs.

2. Evaluate your finances

After you’ve decided what services your manuscript needs, it’s time to budget for them. Good editors are highly trained, and charge accordingly. Most freelancers are flexible, and willing to accommodate requests for scheduled payments. But, it may be that you’re unable to afford all the services you need at one time. If this happens, be upfront about it. Negotiate. Maybe she’ll bring the price down, maybe she won’t. But, if at all possible, don’t skip the editing steps your manuscript needs. Pay for the services you can afford now, then save up and get the rest done later. Readers notice editorial lapses, and a bad review citing shoddy editing can cost you much more than the price of the edit, in the long run.

3. Establish boundaries

Once you’ve established which services you can afford, it’s time to decide how your edit will proceed. Talk to your editor about how she usually marks up a manuscript, and think about what you’re comfortable with. Most editors work on-screen, usually using MS Word’s track changes feature. But, if you’re a hard core pen-and-paper person, you may be able to convince her to mark up a hard copy manuscript by hand. You will also want to decide whether you want your editor to make changes directly into the text, and track them, or only to make comments and suggestions, and leave the changes up to you. You may want the entire manuscript edited at once, or you may want to review it one chapter at a time. Discuss your preferences with your editor, find out her preferences, and decide together how you’ll proceed.

4. Set a schedule

At this stage, you know how the edit will progress, so it’s time to adopt a tentative schedule. Edits can drag out if there are no deadlines in place to keep both parties on track; you can become trapped in a cycle of endless edits and revisions. So, since you decided how many iterations the edit will progress though during stage three, you can now decide how much time to spend on each one. Discuss this with your editor, and settle on a few deadlines for the important milestones. But remember to budget for setbacks; there always seems to be at least one puzzle that arises to delay a project.

5. Discuss your vision for the manuscript

Before editing begins, tell your editor what you envision for the manuscript. This may seem like a no-brainer, but many people skip this step and assume that the editor will be able to surmise their intentions from the manuscript itself, or from a short email. But, if you and your editor are on different wavelengths about what material to emphasize, and what can be eliminated or re-formatted, you could be facing weeks of backtracking when you get the edited manuscript back in your hands. Avoid this by getting together (in person, over the phone, via Skype) and sharing your vision with her.

6. Keep your head

When you receive the marked up manuscript, don’t panic. It can be a shock seeing all that red on your lovingly crafted work. Initially, you may want to write a strongly worded note to your editor, while clicking reject on every change she’s made, but please, resist this urge. Instead, under the Review tab in MS Word, click the drop box that says “Final: Show Markup” and select “Final,” instead. The red will disappear and you’ll see your manuscript the way a reader would. Take the time to read it through in this view, and you may not even notice that the text was modified. Also, read through the notes or explanations your editor may have left in the margins or in an attached letter. If you still disagree with some of the changes, write a note outlining your concerns and reject the corrections she made in error. But, be diplomatic about it. And be prepared for a negotiation: a skilled editor won’t have made changes without good reason.

All of these six steps have one thing in common: communication. Like every successful relationship, an effective author-editor relationship is built on clear communication. So take the time to plan and share with your editor before you begin. You will most likely find the process less frustrating and more productive than your contemporaries who dive in with little preparation, and there’s a good chance you’ll see a corresponding increase in profit from the sale of your book.

*Side note, Jessica is my editor and she is FABULOUS. I wouldn't be where I am with Sundered, Bound and Dauntless without her help. *


Anonymous said...

Shannon, THANK you for this valuable brief on working with an editor. I will RT this and I am sure it will make the rounds - very helpful indeed. KC

Ciara Ballintyne said...

Excellent post to help demystify the writer-editor relationship. Making sure everyone is clear on what is required is very important. My current day job is as a lawyer, and finding out the client was expecting something completely different to what I've done is a real headache. This is something we try to manage as much as possible - because it's that important!

Jonathan D Allen said...

Wow, VERY timely for me. Just reached an agreement with an editor and will be getting her the book in the next two weeks. This will help me chart the waters going forward.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post, I will forward to some of my friends... I appreciate it very much!
Have a super day!
Take care,