Building a Relationship With Your Editor
You’ve finished your manuscript. It’s been tweaked and modified, and you’ve run it past three different pre-readers for comments and critiques. You’ve made your last series of changes, and you’re ready for editing. You’ve hired an editor… so now what? Now’s the time for you to begin building a relationship with your editor.
The most important thing about building a relationship with your editor is establishing a level of trust. As an author, you need to believe that your editor has the best interests of your manuscript at heart. A good editor’s purpose is simply to make your book the very best it can be. Once you find an editor you’re comfortable with, trust her to do just that. If you don’t trust your editor to make your manuscript shine, you need to find another editor. It’s really that simple.
Even before the editing begins, keep the lines of communication open. Knowing that you can reach your editor at any time during the editing process should allay any anxiety you may have, but that needs to work both ways. Make sure you’re available to your editor, as well, and not just in the beginning. There may be times during the edit your editor will need to pick your brain over important details—if she can’t reach you, it holds up the whole process. Respect her time and remember that while she may be your only editor, you are most likely not her only author. Most editors juggle multiple projects at once, whether they’re freelance editors or in-house editors; it’s just the nature of the business.
When you’re communicating with your editor, make sure that you’re honest about everything—from the smallest mundane detail to your overall satisfaction with your edit. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about things you don’t understand. A good editor will be happy to explain why she’s made a change, whether it’s a rule about grammar or syntax, a tweak that makes a sentence read clearer or removes repetition, or changes to punctuation to that improve the sentence flow. Feel free to praise something that’s done well, but be honest about things you don’t agree with. Don’t withhold your opinion because it may contradict that of your editor; instead, have a discussion and offer alternate suggestions or reasons why you’d like things to remain the way they were written. You’d be surprised how easy it is for an editor to say, “Oh, okay,” and delete an edit or a series of edits when an author points out stylist choices and variations from grammatical rules. A good author knows when to hold fast to the rules as well as when to bend or break them. But in the same vein, trust your editor enough to know that if she still wants to override a choice, it’s probably for a valid reason.
When it comes to your stylistic choices, sharing this information up front is a must. And in this instance, the more information, the better. Provide your editor with a style sheet containing your style choices, a character list and relationship guide, an outline if you have one, and whatever notes you’ve kept regarding your book. This is especially important when writing a series. Keeping track of details within one book is hard enough, but when you’ve got details about people, places, and plots happening across a series of books, a style sheet is a life saver.
No matter what, every author needs to be able to separate herself from her book and not take the critique of the work as a personal attack. A good editor can help you learn to compartmentalize criticism, weed out the useful from the useless, and thicken your skin even more. One trick editors suggest to authors is the write and wait method. If you can’t ignore it and you absolutely have to respond to something that’s upset you, write it out and then wait—don’t send it. Read it again two days later, once you’ve cooled down. Most times, the combination of expression through writing and the cooling off period are enough and the author never feels the need to respond after all.
Building a relationship with your editor can be relatively painless if you remember to keep an open mind, stay honest in all communications, keep the communication flowing, and above all else, trust your editor to do what’s best for your manuscript. With all that, you can’t go wrong.