10 Tips for Working with an Editor

Congratulations! You’ve completed your manuscript, chosen your editor, and are ready to make your baby shine. In fact, a good edit (or several) are all that stand between you and glorious publication. Right? Well, it’s not quite that simple.

Editing is a lot of work. Re-writing is a lot of work. And working with an editor can definitely be a difficult and emotional process if you don’t know what to expect. 

That’s where I come in. As a published author and full-time editor, both freelance and for Crosshair Press, I’ll be sharing with you some tips to make the experience as painless and beneficial as possible. Before you know it, you might even be excited to get those edits back!

1. Expect edits. This may sound obvious, but every writing client I’ve worked with seems to harbor an unvoiced hope that their work is, somehow, perfect just the way it is. It might comfort you to remember that every author worth their salt – yes, even NY Times Bestselling authors – goes through multiple edits. It doesn’t make you a failure. It’s just part of the process.

2. Be patient. I know, it’s nerve-wracking to just sit and wait for someone else – a stranger, even – to critique your work. But a quality content edit takes time. I specialize in developmental content edits, and it can take me 40 hours or more to edit a very clean, solid, 100,000 word manuscript.

3. Remember: it’s not about you. As prolific author T. Davis Bunn says, the first draft is for you. It’s your baby. The subsequent drafts are for everyone else. Your editor might want to take out a scene you think is hilarious, when the reality is, the scene really doesn’t fit with the feel or the flow of the story.

4. Don’t respond right away. After you receive and read through edits on your manuscript, take some time before you come back to it. Every writing client I’ve worked with has had a strong negative reaction upon receiving back their first edit. It’s tough and emotional when someone else criticizes something you’ve poured hours and heart and tears into. But resist the urge to lash out and give yourself time to work through the emotions, so you can approach it in a productive and professional way.

5. Ask questions. A good editor isn’t just focused on correcting what is “wrong” with your manuscript. They also want to help you learn to avoid common problems and improve as a writer. If you don’t understand a suggested change or comment, respectfully ask for clarification. Always be ready to learn something new.

6. Resist the urge to defend your genius. This happens more often than you might think. After a writer receives their first content edit, they usually vacillate between a despairing sense of utter failure, and righteous indignation that their editor doesn’t understand their genius. Few things make you appear less professional. Refer to the previous tips to resist the urge and instead turn it into a positive, productive experience.

7. View your editor as your ally. That character that’s been giving you fits and refusing to talk? Ask your editor for help. That scene you’ve been struggling with? Maybe your editor has some ideas to fix your plot problem. The whole point of hiring an editor is to get a different perspective and a fresh look at your story. Take advantage of it.

8. Know your story. Know your audience. Know your message. Know your characters inside and out. Then, you’ll know what edits to keep, what editor suggestions to set aside, and what needs more explanation and development. If your editor is reading a story that’s very different than the one in your mind, maybe you didn’t communicate it as well as you thought. Knowing the fundamentals of your story will help you know what to change and when to stand firm and stay true to your story.

9. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Embrace the fun and ridiculous. Enjoy the warm fuzzies from every smiley face or “Well done” mark from your editor. I used code words with one of my editing clients. I used “banana” for “show, don’t tell,” “peaches,” for “needs more snark” and “fruit salad” for paragraphs that needed both!

10. Remember why you write. Receiving feedback and re-writing your story can make you feel like a failure or like you’ll never accomplish your writing goals. Don’t give in to that voice. Remind yourself of why you love to write. Remember why your story needed to be told. And, most of all, remember that God loves you unconditionally and made you a storyteller. Embrace every stage of the process.

So, there you have it! A few tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way guaranteed to smooth your professional writing path and improve your working relationship with editors and everyone else along your publishing journey. 

Have you ever worked with an editor or had a content edit? What was the experience like for you? How did you learn or grow from the experience?

5 Comments Add yours

  1. I have to say that, even though I’ve been through more than a few rodeos by now, working with an editor can still be an emotional and difficult experience. Better an editor telling me what’s wrong than a reader, though!

    1. Karis Waters says:

      In some ways, it shouldn’t get easier because the more emotion you’ve invested in your story the more it will connect with readers! But that does make it more challenging when faced with a content edit. As you said, though, better to receive critique from an editor than lose your reader!

  2. Thanks for the tips. I am actually excited to get to the point when I can hand off my manuscript to an editor. Someday soon I hope. I will keep your suggestions in mind.

    1. Karis Waters says:

      Nichole, I’m glad the tips were helpful! Going into an edit knowing what to expect makes a huge difference. Keep my suggestions and editing services in mind when you get to that stage in the process. All the best and keep writing!

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