Making the most out of your relationship with your editor

Whether you’re hiring a freelance editor to help you polish your manuscript before querying or self-publishing, or working with your assigned editor after selling your book to a publishing house, you’ll want to make the most out of that editorial relationship. Let’s go over some of the common pitfalls and advantages to working with an editor, and give you the tools you need to advocate for yourself and your book.

The first hurdle is to be clear about what kind of editor you need. Spend some time reflecting on your goals, the shape of your manuscript now, and what kind of editor can help you shape it to meet your goals. For more on the various kinds of editors, see this post.

In some cases, you won’t be able to choose your editor: i.e. if you get an offer from only one publisher. But even then, you should think carefully about whether the editor you’d work with at that publisher is right for you.

Meet by phone or zoom before you commit. This is an important—and sometimes intimate!—relationship. You don’t need to make a friendship connection per se, but you should get a sense that this person shares your goals and sees eye to eye with you about what your book could be.

Whether you’re hiring an editor yourself, or working with a publisher, I recommend asking these questions when you meet.

  • How do you want to receive my manuscript? What file format do you prefer, and would you like to receive the entire manuscript at once, or receive drafts in chunks?
  • How many rounds of revision should we plan for?
  • What are the most common editorial comments you find yourself making?
  • Will you be my primary contact at the publisher, or will I have direct contact with marketers/publicists as well?
  • What do you see are the main themes/arguments of my book? And who do you see are the readers of this book?
  • What do you wish every author knew before they entered into a partnership with you?

The second hurdle is turning in your manuscript. When the time comes to submit your draft, I recommend including a list of notes/questions/concerns to help your editor understand your needs. Be sure to ask your editor to give you an estimated turnaround time for their work, and then don’t touch the manuscript while your editor is working! This is your much-deserved break from the project, and refraining from further tinkering will protect your editor from extra work or file versioning issues.

The most important hurdle is your relationship with your editor. Below are my tips for making the most of your time together and avoiding some common pitfalls.

Trust your editor: know that while you’re the expert on your topic, your editor brings a lot of skills to the table, such as what hooks work, what readers are seeking, how momentum and pacing and structure and argument work, and how to position a book so it sells as well as possible.

Welcome criticism: the best books come as a result of an editor and an author both being transparent enough to say hard things: this paragraph isn’t working, that structure isn’t as strong as this one, that chapter needs to go.  

Expect hard work ahead: assuming that there is a lot of work ahead of you. Expect a lot of editorial input, revision suggestions, and tracked changes. Then you can be pleasantly surprised if that is not the case.

Remember editors are busy: your editor is likely working with many different writers and reading a ton of words and responding to many emails in the course of one day. So something as simple as collecting all your questions in one email, rather than sending five separate emails through the course of a day, with one question each, can ease the strain.

Stand your ground: most editors respect pushback from an author. If you feel strongly about a particular point—a revision suggestion they made that doesn’t work, in your opinion—raise it in a conversation. Sometimes neither of you have landed on the answer yet, but an editor’s intuition can lead you toward the solution. Don’t allow the inherent power imbalance to skew your view of the editor’s feedback. The publisher cannot continue to exist without the work of authors. You’ll be a better partner to your editor if you are clear eyed about what you each bring to the table. You bring innovative and compelling content—a message that can only come from you. The editor brings industry experience, and understanding of what helps make a book succeed, and the financial investment of the publisher.

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