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10 tips for working with an editor

February 7, 2013

In the last post, I talked about how to find an editor. Let’s assume your search for the right editor was successful and now the editing will begin. Many first-time authors enter the editorial process with some trepidation, worried about what the editor will do to their “baby,” but there’s no need for that. The editing process should go smoothly if you keep a few simple things in mind:

  1. Remember that the editor is an ally, not an enemy. You and your editor are working together to produce the best book possible. Don’t take criticism of your story as a personal attack. It might hurt to read some of the feedback, but the editor is only trying to make your manuscript better.
  2. Set aside your ego and your fears and approach your editor’s suggestions with an open mind. Remember that old saying: Minds are like parachutes. They work best when they’re open. If you’re not open to your editor’s suggestions, you’re wasting your time and your or your publisher’s money. So don’t slip into a defensive attitude. Most writers I know (myself included) are very protective of their story and its characters. That’s understandable. But if you’re busy defending your manuscript, you lose the chance to listen and learn.
  3. Take some time to carefully think about the editor’s suggestions. Take a step back and try to see where the editor is coming from. Never send off an e-mail to the editor right after you read her feedback. Get some professional distance first. Writing coach Holly Lisle’s first rule for working with an editor is to “shut mouth, open ears.” She advises writers to write down everything the editor says, even if you don’t agree with it, then to ask for some time to let it all sink in before discussing it with the editor.
  4. There’s no need to be afraid that the editor will change your story into something that you won’t even recognize anymore. A good editor won’t rewrite your book for you; she’ll make you do all the work. The editor’s goal is to make your work the best it can be, not to turn it into her own story.
  5. A good editor is right more often than not, but they’re human, so even editors are wrong sometimes. Most often, it’s not even a matter of who’s right and who’s wrong; you just disagree. It’s okay to disagree with your editor, but don’t let it became a power struggle. Talk about it in a respectful way, let the editor explain why she feels the change is necessary, explain what you were trying to do with the scene, and try to find a compromise. Most often, it turns out that the best solution might not be what the editor suggested, but that there’s still a problem in the scene that needs to be addressed.
  6. The editor’s suggestions are exactly that—suggestions that are meant to help you improve your story. The editor suggests; she doesn’t dictate. Since it’s your name on the cover, a good editor won’t make any changes without your approval.
  7. Most of the editor’s suggestions are more than the subjective opinion and personal preferences of one person. A good editor bases her suggestions on years of experience and on her knowledge of the writing craft, grammar rules, and style guides. She’s familiar with the market and the expectations of your target audience, and she has a professional distance, so she might see flaws that you as the writer don’t see because you’re too close to your work.
  8. Among many things, editors are readers. If the editor expresses concerns about one aspect of your story, other readers might too. You can’t afford to dismiss it out of hand.
  9. Try to communicate with your editor. I’m often amazed at how many writers don’t communicate well. Ask questions if you’re not sure you understand or if you need more help or information.
  10. Please don’t justify yourself by saying, “But X [insert name of a famous, bestselling author] does this too.” First, it’s possible that a really experienced writer can pull off what you were trying to do. Second, that author’s book sells well despite, not because of her head hopping, overuse of adverbs, or anything else she might be doing.

Can you think of anything else that might be helpful when working with an editor? Leave a comment, please.

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