Golden Rules For The Editor/Writer Relationship

At the very best, the relationship between an editor and a writer is an intense balance of two people who want the very best for a manuscript. They both work long hours. And despite the pressure and deadlines, they have a mutual respect for each other and know how to communicate so that, in the end, both leave the relationship knowing the book is brilliant and that there is potential to work together again.

At the very worst, the relationship between an editor and a writer is volatile power struggle between two people who want the very best for a manuscript. Maybe they both have the same commitment; maybe they don’t. And because of the pressure and deadlines, they argue constantly, and the jabs get a little personal. In the end, both leave the relationship swearing that the other is the most difficult type of personal to deal with, and swear to never work with another writer/editor again…at least until next time.

And how do I know this? I’ve been both the writer and the editor. I’ve worked with writers and editors who were a joy, who I adored and maintain contact with still today. I’ve worked with writers and editors who challenged me and put all my negotiation skills to the test. Would I trade any of it? Nope. But before I had worked with anyone, I wish I would have known a few things.

Golden Rules For Working With Your Editor

1. Do your homework. If you are hiring an editor for your book, talk to other writers. Talk to the editor before you hire her. Find someone who shares your vision for your book and has your same philosophies on editing.

2. Send your editor the cleanest, most complete copy of your manuscript. This is true whether you hire an editor or are assigned one from a publisher. After the book is edited and formatted for print, it can be difficult to insert big chunks of text. Inserting even a few paragraphs at the last minute can shift the formatting in your entire book, and it may need to be redone. And sometimes, it even changes the content and other sections may need to be re-edited. This means duplication of work for your editor, and everyone’s time is valuable.

3. Remember your editor is human. You did not hire or were not assigned a machine to edit your book. The beautiful thing about your editor being human is that they can ask questions about the content and analyze your writing in a personal way, just like your readers will. The drawback of your editor being human is that we are all prone to imperfection. No editor wants to make mistakes or miss things in your book; everyone wants a perfect copy. There is accountability for the editor, but the thing is, even with a team of 10 editors, getting a 350-page document to print without one single flaw is close to impossible. Both the writer and editor need to go through the document carefully and more than one time.

4. Pick your battles, and let the rest go. It’s not personal.

Golden Rules For Working With Your Writer

1. Establish up front what you are editing for in the document. If you are hired by a writer, find out exactly what they want from you. Do they have to adhere to specifications and formatting set forth by their publisher? Do they want someone to find content errors or just want a grammar cleanup? Critiquing someone’s content if they don’t want it usually doesn’t end well. Make sure you’re clear about their expectations.

2. This isn’t a firing squad. This is the writer’s baby. They’ve grown it and nurtured it and usually have a deep emotional attachment to it. Be honest with your writer, but be respectful, too.

3. Negotiate, not dictate, as much as possible. Your job is to provide feedback, improve the book, address grammar/punctuation/formatting issues. Think about what things are negotiable so the author still remains in creative control and the work is still in the writer’s voice. Make all the suggestions you want, but understand that not all suggestions about creative content need to be obeyed blindly. Think about what is non-negotiable (like grammar rules, unless they are a consistent stylistic choice for an emphatic purpose), and be able to back up your grammar choices with evidence (there are dozens of great grammar websites and books).

4. Pick your battles, and let the rest go. It’s not personal.

Regardless of whether you are the writer or the editor, this is a relationship built on open communication and trust. What are the most important things you’ve found as you’ve worked with your writer or editor? Any other golden rules writers and editors should know? Leave a comment!

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