Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Things a Writer Should and Should Not Do in Order to Have a Positive Editing Experience

Mama Bear Magan hasn't been feeling too well, so I've asked my friend and freelance editor--Rachel Johnson from over at Splice Advice to do a guest post for Writerly Wednesday.  Enjoy!

The road to becoming a published author can be somewhat difficult, so it’s good to have people in your life that can help to steer you in the right direction. As a hopeful author, one of your most important allies in a world full of cynicism and rejection letters will be your editor. Whether you choose to hire a freelancer, have a friend in the business, or get hooked up with an author through your agency, it is important to have a killer experience with this person. That being said, there are some suggestions that come to mind as an editor that I want to pass along that I think help to make the author-editor experience all the more enjoyable.

DO communicate. In order to both have a good relationship with your editor and make sure you get the services you are paying for, it is vital to have regular and positive communication. You don’t necessarily have to be best friends, but having an open line of communication is a good idea. Keep in touch with him or her, make sure you have their contact information and they have yours, and if you have questions or concerns, do not be afraid to ask.

DO NOT be vague. As a writer, it is key to be upfront and direct about your intentions, projected audience, deadlines, and desires in regards to your manuscript. If your instructions are hazy, you will likely end up disappointed or overwhelmed when you get your edits back. Before your editor even looks at your manuscript, it is helpful for the two of you to establish the following:

- If you want your editor to copy edit or proofread your manuscript (there is a difference)

- Who your intended audience is

- When you need your manuscript back, or when you would like it by

- How much your editor will be paid for the work he or she does on your manuscript, how you plan to pay them, and when they will be paid

- How your editor should pose questions to you

- What style guide your editor will be using

- What format your editor will use to review your manuscript. That is, if edits will be done on the computer and e-mailed to you, or if you want a hard copy of your manuscript mailed to you when your edits are complete.

DO self-edit. While it is true that the brunt of editing work falls on your editor (obviously), it is still important for you to read through your manuscript once or twice. You will catch areas of confusion in your plot, consistency problems, and instances where you MEANT to say one thing and accidentally said another. Then, your editor can serve as a new, fresh set of eyes to catch errors that you may have missed in your scans. The more times a manuscript is read, the better. And I cannot stress to you enough that spell check in Word or whatever program you are using IS NOT a substitute for an editor.

DO NOT ignore your style sheet. When you give your editor your manuscript to be proofread, they will more often than not send it back along with something called a “style sheet” which is a guide of your personal style. This will outline common errors you have made in conventions and thus, things that you need to be especially careful to watch out for when you are writing your second draft. Your editor takes time to put this together for you as a means to improve as a writer so PLEASE do not ignore it. Have it handy in rewrites, because if your editor tells you on your style sheet to capitalize brand names and he or she gets your second draft back with things like “Mary parked her cadillac outside of her local best buy store” they will freak out.

DO speak up if there is a problem. Editors are not perfect people who will automatically get you and your manuscript. If your editor is way off base, entirely too critical, or doesn’t seem to understand the entire essence of your manuscript, tell them! Often times editors will assume that they understand your approach, your voice, and the story you are trying to tell, and thus, their edits will reflect this. However, if he or she was unclear of these things before setting out, then they may end up cutting out a lot of stuff you put in there for a reason that may have not been entirely obvious. This leads to more work for you and your editor, as well as a lot of unchecked tension. Be honest if things aren’t working out, even if it means finding a different editor to work with. Not everything will be a match made in heaven.

DO NOT be heartbroken. One of the most important things to keep in mind when working with an editor is that anything that she or he says is NOT a personal attack on you. It is incredibly easy and even understandable to feel attacked; your manuscript is your baby after all, and nobody will love and understand it the way you do. However, your editor is not criticizing you, your baby, or your abilities as a writer even. An editor is there to shed light on places where you need improvement, places where you excel, and items you need to watch out for as you keep exploring your manuscript. Take everything your editor says with a grain of salt and understand that it isn’t a dig. A comment is just the editor’s take on where you need to tweak something in order to be clear, concise, or consistent.

DO expect professionalism. Your editor is not your critique partner, thus, do not expect to get your manuscript back with gold stars and comments about how much they loved a particular scene or how they could truly relate to your protagonist. You will be very disappointed if you expect your editor to give you a review. Your editor is there strictly to analyze how your manuscript can be improved upon. If you are friends with your editor, that is a different story, and totally okay for them to give you props where you deserve it. However, as your editor, this person will maintain a professional rapport with you and give you just the facts about your piece. Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean your editor didn’t think you wrote an amazing book; they just try to keep it professional and remain neutral. That’s what you’re asking for. If that’s not what you want, then try a different venue, such as a critique circle, contest, or have a friend read it.

The relationship with your editor doesn’t need to be strained or stressful. Just keep what you want and what you expect in mind, and don’t forget to fill your editor in on these details. Then, both parties will emerge from the transaction happy and satisfied with the work that was done. After all, an error-free manuscript is a happy manuscript!


  1. This is great advice. Feel better Magan:( that picture reminds me of something I would say, btw.

  2. This is WONDERFUL advise!!! Thanks so much, Rachel Johnson!

    Magan - Hope you feel better soon!

  3. This looks a lot longer on your blog than it did when I wrote it...oops!

  4. Great advice!

    New follower...


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