The Author-Editor Relationship—Do’s and Don’ts

Guest Post by Irene Watson

Good authors need good editors, and staying on an editor’s good side will not only make a big difference in an author’s relationship with him or her, but in the end, with the final book’s success. A good editor will be professional with an author’s work, while a good author will know how to treat the editor with courtesy and respect.

I work with a lot of authors to help them get publicity for their books, and I know a lot of editors. I know that a well-edited book can make a huge difference in that book’s success, so it is a given that an author and an editor must have a good working relationship.

Sadly, I sometimes hear horror stories from both editors and authors about their relationships. While an editor must be objective and professional in his criticism of an author’s book, many authors do not know how to be professional in terms of working with an editor because they are new to the experience and don’t know what to expect from the relationship.

Following are a few guidelines for authors when working with an editor so you can ensure you both have a satisfying and successful relationship that in the end will produce a book to make you both proud.

Remember, You’re Not the Editor’s Only Client. My editor friends frequently tell me that authors call them up on the phone to ask them to edit their books so it can be published within three weeks’ time. Do you really think your prospective editor has nothing else to do in the next three weeks except edit your book? If he doesn’t, chances are he’s not a very good editor.

The time to look for an editor is when your book is nearly complete. You should have the manuscript completed and maybe just a few tweaks left to make to it. Call the editor and ask him or her to do a sample edit of a few pages so you get a feel for his style and he gets an idea of what will be required to edit the book, so he can give you a price quote for the work. You can’t expect an editor to quote you a price for a half-written manuscript, and if an editor does give you a quote without having seen the whole book, he’s either a novice who’s going to end up overcharging you, or more likely charging less than he should and regretting it; or he’s desperate for work, in which case, he probably isn’t a very good editor anyway.

Ask the editor what his timeline and schedule are like, how long he thinks it will take to edit the book, and then plan accordingly. It is not unreasonable to expect to wait a few weeks before an editor can start on your book and to expect the overall editing and proofreading process to take a month once the editor begins work. Some variation will exist depending on the length of the book, how good of a writer you are, and how many other projects the editor has to work on.

Once the editor gives you a date for when the editing will be completed, don’t hound him, but ask him to let you know ahead of time if he later cannot meet that date so you can plan ahead.

Don’t Hand Over a Mess. When you ask an editor for a price quote, you should send a complete manuscript to the editor. Make it easy on him. Don’t send twenty separate documents and expect him to put them together like a jigsaw puzzle. That’s a lot of his time wasted since you know better than he does the order of your chapters. Put all your manuscript together into one piece. If you are undecided about where something should go, put it in the best place possible, and then send along a note to the editor expressing any concerns you have about content, organization, plot, etc.

Do not send the editor a pdf. Pdf’s make no sense to edit. Word is the easiest program to use for editing books. Make sure you send a document the editor can edit. Many authors make the mistake of having the book laid out, only then to decide they need proofreading or editing. If the editor has to proofread a pdf, it can be extremely time-consuming, plus it’s extra work for the layout person, who is also likely to end up charging you more to make the corrections in the file to go to the printer. Ask the editor whether he wants a Word document or some other format. In most cases, a Word document will be preferred.

Be Clear What Your Expectations are for the Editor. Do you want the editor only to edit the book, or do you want him to proofread it also? Do you need the editor to help you with writing the back cover, marketing materials, a press release, and text for your website? Most editors will edit your book and that is it. You may want to hire a marketing person or publicist for the rest of those items, but if you want your editor to help you with them, let him know that upfront so he can include that work in his quote or charge you hourly for it. Don’t expect him just to keep doing extra little favors for free after the book is edited. His time is valuable and he has other clients.

Be Responsible for Your Share of the Workload. Your editor may be a talented writer, but don’t expect him to write your book. And don’t expect him to rewrite it. He will rewrite sentences as needed, but he shouldn’t have to write chapters or sections for you. (If you need that kind of work, you need to hire a ghostwriter, and it will generally cost you more than an editor, and even then, you should have someone else edit the ghostwriter’s work). Nor should you expect your editor to fix everything without consulting you. Your editor will send you back your book so you can do revisions. It’s your book and you need to be responsible for doing any rewriting necessary as well as making decisions about whether or not to take the editor’s suggestions. The editor can then edit your rewrites. If the editor helps you with a press release, the text for the book cover, or website, the same case holds—the editor can edit that text, but you as the author need to be responsible for writing it.

Respect Your Editor’s Time. By this point, you probably realize you are not the editor’s only client since he probably didn’t start editing your book the day you first called him. Your editor is busy—busy working on your book, or busy working on another book so he can get to working on your book. Be polite and respectful of his time.

Ask your editor how he prefers to communicate with you. If you need to call him on the phone, email him first to set up an appointment, or make a brief call to ask him when will be a good time to talk. Be mindful of his personal time. Don’t call or expect him to work on your book on the weekends or in the evening, and if he’s in another time zone, remember that as well before you call him too early or too late in the day. No, 10 o’clock on Monday night is not a good time to discuss why you want to keep the split infinitives in your book—no time is a good time to discuss that anyway—but certainly not 10 o’clock on Monday night.

Keep Your End of the Bargain. When payment is agreed upon, keep up your end of the bargain. Put the check in the mail when you say you will. If you’ve agreed to make multiple payments, then stick to the payment schedule. Your editor can’t be expected to do a good job on your book when he has to wonder whether he’s going to be able to make his mortgage payment because you didn’t pay him.

Also, be mindful of your editor’s schedule when you do revisions. If he kept to his timeframe for the initial editing, then let him know when you’ll be able to get your revisions back to him. If you tell him a week, then try to keep to that. Your editor most likely will have one or more other books to work on while you’re making revisions, so giving him a general timeline for completing your end of the work will allow him to plan ahead and juggle the other books he is working on for other authors.

By following these simple guidelines, you can develop a professional and lasting relationship with your editor, a relationship that will help to make your book the best it can be.

Irene Watson is the Managing Editor of Reader Views, where avid readers can find reviews  of recently published books as well as read interviews with authors. Her team also provides author publicity  and a variety of other services specific to writing and publishing books.


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Posted on April 8, 2011, in Publicity & Writing, Writing & Publishing. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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