Tips on working with an editor

editingBe clear and open about your editing needs:

Tell the editor exactly what you want done with your manuscript, your timeline, what you can afford, and any other similar details. Talk all your requirements and questions over with your editor upfront, and request a written contract that covers all these details. If the editor has different ideas, listen to them carefully, and consider how those changes could improve your manuscript. But if you really disagree, you are better off to find a different editor. And likewise, a good editor will also let you know if a different editor would be better for you to work with.

Discuss fees, and get an estimate and contract:

Discuss the fees up front and get an estimate in writing, which includes what will be done, the estimated time, and the estimated final cost (most editors will provide a minimum and a possible maximum estimate). If you have a cap which you can pay, say so. In that case, if the editor realizes the manuscript is more complex than expected,  he or she can stop and discuss what you want to do–for example, find more funds, do more self-editing first so that the editing job will be less complex, or end the job.

Ways to save editing costs:

The length of time it takes for the edit, and the cost, will depend on the quality of the work you submit. Make your piece as polished as you possibly can before submitting it to the editor (and don’t be surprised if it still needs a lot of work). Another possibility is to have the editor do the first couple chapters, then return it to you. You can examine the types of errors you are making in your writing, and then do another revision of your manuscript to be edited. This often saves you time and money, and is also a valuable leaning experience. If you have friends who are good readers and writers, and are willing to do “beta reads” and give you advice, ask for their input if they are willing. Many communication formats use editors: film, video, magazines, newspapers, blogs, books, fiction, non-fiction, technical writing. Be aware that depending on the format, editing time and deadlines may range from a few minutes to a year or more.

On the other hand, if your piece of writing clearly needs a great deal of work, the editor may choose, rather than doing a full edit, to return it with an overall summary of what they have seen as ongoing issues (for example, a weak beginning and ending, plot problems, language, point of view, mechanical problems, plagiarism), and ask you to do a rewrite. You will pay for that initial edit, but in the end it will be the best for you and your piece.

Be realistic about editing time:

Editing will quite likely take longer than you expect. You will almost always need more editing than you expect, because there will be more problems with your work than you think. Then you will almost certainly need to revise and resubmit for more editing. A good edit almost always requires at least 2 to 3 full read-throughs by your editor, with you doing revisions each time. And don’t forget, once your book has been set up for printing, there will need to be a final proof-read. So when you are planning your timeline—and your costs—keep this in mind. Remember, too, that your editor also has other editing jobs to do, and other personal responsibilities, and cannot be expected to do “rush jobs.” If you demand a rush job, you will either be turned down, or you will be charged extra, usually from 30 to 50% more than regular rates.

Working with publishing house editors:

If you are working with a traditional publisher, including book publishers, magazines and newsletters, websites, and other publishers (and printers), you must follow their rules, their in-house style guide and standards, the “look” of their products, the type of content they are looking for, and their deadlines. A book published through a traditional publisher often has a timeline of 1 ½ to 2 years; magazines often require submissions up to 6 months to a year before the publishing date. And for every kind of publisher, you must know their vision, their needs, and their reader’s needs. Carefully check out products they have already published that are similar to what you are writing; check out their websites; and check out sources of information such as Writer’s Digest manuals.

If you are publishing through a traditional publishing company, your work may go through edits by several editors specializing in different aspects. Check each of their edits, and learn from them. Don’t just check the “overall edit.” But before you even think of sending your manuscript to a traditional publisher (directly or through an agent), make sure you have self-edited it, had beta-readers go through it, and even had a freelance editor go through it. It is very difficult to get manuscripts accepted by traditional editors, so it is essential that it is already as good as you can make it before you submit it. Of course, you should also do the same before submitting to a freelance editor. It’s your pocketbook—and your reputation as a writer—at stake.

Follow all rules and deadlines:

Even simple works, such as submitting poems or short stories to an anthology or a contest, require you to follow their deadlines and their rules (for example, the type of software they require, the font and font size, margins, spacing, and the style guide they require). If you break even the simplest of their “rules,” you may well lose the opportunity to be published. Furthermore, if there is a specified length (in words and/or number of pages or columns), never try to “squeeze” your piece into the given space by single-spacing, widening margins, making the story into one large paragraph, or joining dialogue conversations into one paragraph. You expect your editor and publisher to be professional—and they expect you to be professional, too. Even in “practice” writing and publishing experiences, such as school assignments and anthologies for writers’ camps, write as a professional.

What other tips can you share about working with editors? We’d love to have you share them in the comments below. Thank you!

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2 Responses to Tips on working with an editor

  1. S.K. Lamont says:

    What wonderful and informative post Norma! Thank you so much, for sharing your expertise in this area.

  2. Norma J Hill says:

    Thanks for the encouragement!

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