Hey writer—you know publishers search for brilliant content, and you hope your pages float into the right inbox. Every writer imagines the words calling the editor’s name, connecting at the heart level, and practically casting a golden glow as they’re read. Maybe an orchestra score plays lightly in the office background. That’s every writer’s dream.
Writer, you need an editor.
Maybe you haven’t heard the editor’s a voice personally, but you know it’s an important one. If you work with a traditional publisher, you’re aware of the partnership and process. If you work with your choice of editors for self-publishing or polishing before sharing with a professional, you’ll establish a partnership on your own. Let’s focus on your personal editor selection process.
It might feel a little crazy to tell the editor anything other than “Yes, of course!” But content is personal. It may be specific to your skill or knowledge base, and that makes it tempting to say, “This is my content, and I’m stickin’ to it.” Your words may be crafted with creative purpose. You might want to cry at suggested revisions, or worse, take offense and defend every keystroke. Do all you can to respond well in the editing phase. Remembering a few things may ease the process.
You don’t know what you don’t know.
A number of things may escape your keen eye—from minor typos and grammatical errors to character and plot inconsistencies. Line editing and proofreading makes quick work of those. Repeated “offenses” indicate missing tools in the craft toolbox and point toward a need for new skills. Can you be open to someone offering guidance? She’s not a tutor, but use the editor’s skills to bolster yours.
Your editor wants you to be successful (especially when her professional reputation is on the line). If the working relationship is going to succeed, honesty and respect are not only expected but also welcomed. There are three keys to hearing and embracing honest feedback: maintaining a humble attitude, being genuinely curious, and keeping an open mind.
I can hear you asking with a bit of grit, “Jen, are you saying the editor is always right?” Let’s take always out of the equation. Consider the source (the editor’s skill set, experience, and position). Also consider your own.
Not all editors are the same.
Editors have varying skills and work-related passions. Professionals regularly invest time sharpening their skills. Beyond that, look for the following when choosing your editor:
- The ethical editor partners with clients and content within her expertise. Hard-science dissertation material and poetry are different endeavors. Match the editor to the content. You may like someone, but her expertise may not fit the work.
- The professional editor is clear on the requirements of the work: your needs, goals, and audience. She should clearly communicate the differences between developmental editing, line editing, and proofreading. The fees should reflect differences.
- A skilled editor preserves your voice and style by minimizing influence in those areas if possible.
- An honest editor is clear about two things: her ability to do the work and whether your deadline can be met. Look for documentation including a work proposal outlining the work agreement and payment options.
Know the professional you’re working with and any strengths or weaknesses in the partnership. Know the characters in the mix; hire the right person and personality for your needs. Keep the expectations clear and communication lines open.
Communication and feedback.
Communication should be honest, clear, and kind. When revisions are challenging, try a humble, truthful conversation with your editor. Questions go a long way here. Learn the whys behind suggestions and non-negotiables. You may need to improve your skills in order to write clean content. Be open to learning new things.
It’s a relationship.
Remember: relational connection between the writer and editor should precede correction. A good editor focuses on the person before the project. That wouldn’t alter the editorial skills, but it has to shape the dialogue and interpersonal skills. Find an editor who loves the people they serve, even when that involves truthful “tough love” in small doses.
The editor has a job to do.
A good editor balances the interests of the author and reader. The goal is quality content that accomplishes what it set out to do and delivers on its promises. Quality content is a win-win for the writer and reader. If you find the right editor, writer, you will meet or exceed your expectations for your work in progress.
As an editor, I help writers with their words. If my red pen “machete” has bushwhacking to do, it’s an effort to clear the way for a polished final draft. Sometimes suggestions are just that; other times, they aren’t. It’s helpful to know the difference. It’s best to highlight necessary revisions using truthful words with kindness and respect.
Writer, you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do: share that message, tell that story, solve your reader’s problem, respond to the conviction that is misunderstood. When you’re ready to put your work out there, lean into the writer-editor relationship. The path to success is shared.