Working with an editor: 12 tips

iStock_000018482964XSmallWriters who are new to the editing process (and even some who are not so new) sometimes feel apprehensive about working with an editor. Here are a few tips that might help.

1 Don’t be defensive; approach the process with an open mind

2 Do remember that the editor’s role is to help you bring the manuscript to its full potential. The editor is on your side, and if it sometimes feels like that isn’t the case, remember that the editor is also the reader’s advocate

3 Don’t dismiss the editor’s questions without really thinking about them—let them sit in your mind for a while, take a walk around them to see what might be on the other side. If you’re unsure why the editor is asking a question or what it means, ask

4 Don’t feel you have to accept every suggestion the editor might make just to make them happy. This is a relationship of mutual respect and cooperation; it’s about getting the best result. It’s not about power and it’s not about keeping the peace

5 Make yourself familiar with the publisher’s house style and don’t berate the copyeditor for changing your double quotation marks to singles, or your -ize spellings to -ise—or, worse, undo all of those changes in the edited manuscript. If keeping double quotation marks or -ize spellings feels like an issue of life-or-death for you, discuss this with the editor and publisher before the editing process begins

6 Don’t format your manuscript with fancy headers and footers, headings, columns

7 Don’t ever submit a manuscript that contains text boxes

8 Don’t use the space bar to attempt to align lists or indent paragraphs (use tabs or indents)

9 Do hand over a style sheet, if you have one

10 Do hand over a chronology, if you have one (please have one!)

11 Do hand over any other relevant guide documents, e.g. genealogy, physical descriptions of characters, mud map

12 Do tell the editor if you’re computer-challenged and you’re unfamiliar with onscreen editing using Track Changes

I hope your experience of the editing process is as rewarding as those I’ve had—both as a writer and as an editor. Good luck!


Filed under Tips for writers

27 responses to “Working with an editor: 12 tips

  1. Terri-ann White

    My favourite 3:
    6 Don’t format your manuscript with fancy headers and footers, headings, columns

    7 Don’t ever submit a manuscript that contains text boxes

    8 Don’t use the space bar to attempt to align lists or indent paragraphs (use tabs or indents)

    They take up so much of our time for no reward! Terri-ann

  2. reidonwriting

    Great advice, Amanda. I’ve been fortunate in that the UWAP editors of my novels have been highly skilled professionals, and the process I’ve gone through with them in each case has also been helped by the fact that my own background in editorial roles means that I understand how the relationship should work. Ultimately much depends on the publisher’s ability to select appropriate editors – Terri-ann being exemplary in this respect.

  3. My favourites – 1 and 3. You taught me that. When I found out I was going to have one of my favourite authors (you) as an editor I didn’t know whether to cry or genuflect. But the process was a joy, and always has been since. That’s because editing is the last stop. It’s where the big questions are asked. It’s like tuning an instrument – you tune by rote. But you have to engage the fine tuning to get the harmonics right. That’s the buzz in the reader’s ear. You not only made C&M a better book – I’ve taken you into my next two. I hope we get to work together again.

    • Oh, you lovely thing, Dianne! Thank you for those wonderful comments, but I’m especially thrilled to know that the experience has had long-term benefits for you. From my perspective, working on Creepy & Maud was a joy.

  4. Ohhhhh…. please be my editor 🙂

  5. I’m saving it for when, and if, the time comes! It’s great to hear it from someone who sits both sides of the desk, so to speak. Thanks, Amanda. 🙂

  6. Sage advice, Amanda, which I have shared to my blog. I come across so many new writers who, from arrogance or ignorance, think they know more than their editors. True, they would naturally know more about their ‘story’ but they forget that that is only one part of the writing process, that knowing the craft is of equal importance.

  7. Marlish Glorie

    I’m looking forward to the day when you’re my editor too, Amanda. Meantime I’ll swat up on your invaluable tips. 🙂

  8. Linda Martin

    Great tips, Amanda!

  9. Rose

    Thanks for this wonderful list, Amanda. I have just finished my poetry manuscript and look forward to working with an Editor. I have a prose manuscript almost complete too.

  10. Thanks Amanda, these are great pointers.
    Shoma Mittra

  11. Great tips, A! Don’t forget to have a look at Colin Firth and Jude Law in ‘Genius’, it’s supposed to be the definitive film on the editing process (and, perhaps, the shared nature of ‘genius’?). I’m looking forward to its arrival in Australia.

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