How to Treat Your Book Editor

In my most recent post, I discussed how to find and hire a qualified book editor to edit a writer’s manuscript. Assuming a writer has hired a book editor and sent off her manuscript, what should she expect?

The writer should have worked out in advance with the editor when she should expect to receive the edited manuscript. Four weeks is a reasonable time, but the timing will depend on the editor’s workload. At any rate, the deadline should be agreed to in advance by both parties.

The focus of this post is how the writer should communicate with the editor once she has received the edited manuscript. First, the writer should send the editor a brief email to acknowledge receipt of the manuscript, thank the editor, and let the editor know she will get back to the editor with questions and other feedback. This is not the time for the writer to pepper the editor with questions, such as: “What did you think of the story?”, “Can I sell this to an agent?”, or, “Did the main character work for you?”

At this point the writer hasn’t even read the edited manuscript. Which brings me to my second point. The writer must read the entire manuscript before communicating with the editor. When the writer sees a comment she doesn’t understand or agree with, she may be tempted to fire off an email to the editor. The writer must resist this urge.

I made the mistake of sending my editor an email when I was about three-quarters of the way through my edited manuscript. It had become apparent to me that there were major elements of the plot that did not work. I had received similar feedback from my writer’s group colleagues. So I emailed my editor and told her I was considering a major plot reboot and I described my new idea for the plot. While her response was encouraging, she urged me to read through the entire manuscript before doing any rewriting. The reason was that there would be other comments and insights that might have an impact on the new direction of the story. And I needed to get her entire body of feedback before rushing to any decisions.

Based on my experiences, here is a list of “do’s” and “don’t’s” in post- manuscript communications between writer and editor:

DO

  • Acknowledge receipt of the manuscript and thank the editor. She has put a lot of time and effort into reviewing your work. Editing other writers’ work is not an easy task. It is an arduous challenge to read through and thoughtfully analyze a manuscript of 80,000 words.
  • Review the entire manuscript before communicating any further with the editor. Respect your editor’s time.
  • Make a note of “big picture” problems the editor has identified with the story and carefully assess how to deal with them. For example, the editor may advise that a secondary character who is key to the story doesn’t work. Don’t dismiss that out of hand because it will be too much work to change the story or the character.
  • Take the editor’s feedback seriously. Writers pay good money for a professional edit. The purpose is not to reaffirm how great the writer is and how perfect the manuscript is. The purpose is to improve the manuscript and make the story the best it can be.

DON’T

  • Email the editor every time the writer has a question about an edit or a comment. Again, respect the editor’s time. Like the writer, the editor has other projects and responsibilities.
  • Argue with the editor. This is a big one. If the writer has done her due diligence, she has hired a professional editor and she needs to respect that editor’s judgment and experience. Having said that, it doesn’t mean the writer should blindly accept every suggestion. If the writer truly disagrees with the editor, the writer should initiate an honest and open discussion.
  • Get angry over comments or criticism. My edited manuscript looked like the proverbial term paper laden with red ink from the professor. I could have been hurt, but the editor was doing her job and the “sea of red ink” meant she had done her job well. Better to have a lot of criticism than pristine white pages, which should make the writer wonder if the editor even read the manuscript.

I view the writer-editor relationship as a partnership. I am grateful to have found an editor who is talented, insightful, thorough, and committed to my success. The pointed criticism didn’t hurt. It meant she did her job.

Your turn. Share any “do’s” and “don’t’s” in your experiences with editors.

 

 

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