Working with an editor: Part two

In the last blog, we looked at the things an indie author could and should expect from their freelance editor. This time, we’ll swap it around and find out what the editor needs in return. These are the things that will make your working relationship a pleasure, and that editors think are vital to the ultimate success of your project.

What do editors need from authors?

An understanding of what you’re asking for: a lot of authors think that a ‘proofread’ is a catch-all term for any kind of editing, but to a professional editor (or anyone else in the publishing industry, for that matter) a proofread is a very specific thing, and it happens very late in the process of producing a book. A proofread, strictly speaking, is a final check for small typos, layout problems, pictures with incorrect captions … that kind of thing. It’s not a chance to check for plot holes, or to do any restructuring of sentences beyond the odd small tweak. Editors call those things ‘developmental editing’ and ‘structural editing’, ‘line editing’ and ‘copy editing’.

All editors have stories about authors who asked for a proofread when what their work really needed was a major structural overhaul, but don’t worry – we know the terminology can be confusing. We often can’t even agree amongst ourselves what each term means.

But if you haven’t worked with an editor before (and often even if you have), the chances are that what you need isn’t a proofread, in the way that your editor understands it. What you need is a copyedit, or a line edit, or even a structural/developmental edit if your work is in an earlier draft stage. You can read more about the levels of editing here.

A draft that is ready for editing: don’t send your first scribblings to an editor and expect a finished product by return email. An editor is not a miracle worker. It’s also a waste of your time and money to send work to an editor for a ‘proofread’ when what it actually needs is something much more in-depth. Tools like Grammarly are often derided in the editing community – and it’s true that they can’t replace the improvements you’ll get by having a real-life human being look at your work – but it’s definitely worth using them to catch the more obvious errors before sending your material for professional editing (especially if your editor charges by the hour!). The more time your editor can spend enhancing the flavour of your writing without being distracted every time you spell ‘their’ as ‘thier’, the better. That’s a more efficient use of everyone’s time and money. And Grammarly is free.

Documents in a user-friendly format: most editors prefer to work in MS Word, which is regarded as the industry standard for submitting manuscripts to publishers. Most of us can also work with PDFs and Google Docs, but many editors prefer not to. Word has significantly more power; most of us are expert users and we’ve seen bits of its menus its own mother never knew about. And we have special editing plug-ins that make our lives easier and make our output better. So if you’re in the habit of writing on your phone, or scribbling bits of your magnum opus on the backs of envelopes, please convert them into something useable before expecting your editor to start work. If you can’t afford Word, then you probably can’t afford an editor, but don’t forget that free alternatives like OpenOffice and LibreOffice are available which do pretty much the same job and are compatible with Word.

Communication and responsiveness: you’re both great at words, and you should be using them. This is as true for the author as it is for the editor; the editor needs you to answer those queries, to be clear about your deadlines, and to articulate what it is that you want. If you don’t transmit your requirements to your editor, don’t be surprised if what comes back to you isn’t what you were expecting. Very few of us have psychic abilities.

An understanding of the timescales: editing a novel isn’t just a question of running it through the spellchecker and making sure it’s all in 12-point Times New Roman. A professional editor will take several weeks to copy-edit a book of any substantial length. Many of us agree that it’s not possible to concentrate on a manuscript for more than five or six hours in a single day – and we have businesses to run, too. We need to spend time on marketing, accounting, project management, training, networking, updating Windows (again), preparing sample edits for prospective clients, shouting at the printer, and writing blog posts. Sometimes we need to do laundry, too.

Punctuality, or flexibility: If your editor is a freelancer – and even if they’re not – don’t imagine for a minute that they’re just sitting around waiting for your call. They’re trying to make a living. That almost certainly means they have multiple projects on the go at any one time, and they won’t all be for indie authors. They’ve probably squeezed your book in between a copyedit for a corporate client and a proofread for a popular publisher. Those things have tight deadlines. So it’s particularly important that you stick to the agreed schedule wherever possible. If you submit your manuscript late, don’t be surprised if your editor has pushed you down the queue in favour of working on the next project on their list. I’m sorry to break it to you like this, but ours is not a monogamous relationship.

An understanding that an editor has a living to make: most editors won’t work for free beyond the odd quick email. If you want to spend an hour on the phone discussing a plot point, that’s fine, and your editor will usually be happy to accommodate it, but – unless you have a contract that states this kind of thing is included – don’t be surprised when their invoice includes a charge for the time. If you want your editor to write your synopsis or your query letter, expect to be charged for it. (And while we’re on the subject, please pay that invoice on time. We really, really don’t want to have to chase you for money, because most of us are way too introverted for that kind of stuff. Have a heart.)


We understand that a lot of writers don’t have a lot of spare cash to spend – but really, truly: editing is an important investment, and you really do get what you pay for. In order to get the most out of your working relationship, and to guarantee an end product that’s as good as it can be, then it’s vital that you know how to use your editor to best effect. I hope these two posts have helped to set you on the right path.

Ready to work with an editor now? Click here.

Rhymes With Predator (or: Why You Should Hire an Editor)

I’ve been a professional editor for quite some time now. As part of my job, I frequent a lot of online writing communities – on Facebook, on Twitter, on LinkedIn – and one of the things that often strikes me is how negatively my profession is viewed by writers. “Why should I hire an editor?” they say. “I’m a professional writer! It’s my job!”

Common viewpoints I’ve encountered have come from indie authors telling each other things like, “don’t send your work to an editor – they don’t know what they’re doing / they’ll steal your work and pass it off as their own / they’ll strip out your voice and make your writing really boring / who cares about spelling and grammar anyway, not using proper sentences never did James Joyce any harm … ” And, of course, the perennial, “editors are just ripoff merchants who’ll charge you a fortune for nothing, I really don’t get why it’s so expensive when my friend who’s a teacher said she’d proofread my book for free at the weekend.”

Anyone who didn’t know any different would be forgiven for thinking that an editor is some kind of predatory alien species, intent only on sucking out the lifeblood of its hapless writery victims. Coming out after dark, lurking in your laptop, worming its way through the webcam and extending its oily tentacles into YOUR VERY SOUL.

Let me tell you something, though: I’m a writer, too. Lots of professional editors are. Look, I’m writing this. Right here, right now.

So I’m not out to steal your stuff. Just like you, I’d much rather be writing my own, when I have the time. And besides that, I have a business to run, and businesses need clients. If I earned myself a reputation as someone who befriended innocent writers, promised to help them perfect their prose, and then absconded with their darlings and sent them to an agent, I wouldn’t get very far before the clients found themselves another editor, and I’d probably have to go off and be a drug dealer or something.

Therfore two are better then one, for they

maye well enioye the profit of their laboure.

Ecclesiastes 4:9 (Coverdale Bible, 1535*)

An editor – a good one, at least – is a professional. You know, like a doctor or a dentist. We have training. We have qualifications. We belong to professional bodies that make us pay fees and uphold codes of practice. We’re not just some bloke from your pub quiz team who likes to grumble about you using ‘less’ when you mean ‘fewer’ – although that may well be how some of us realised that editing was our One True Vocation. So, while it’s true that you will come across unscrupulous so-called editors who really don’t know what they’re doing, you can trust a professional to have a detailed knowledge of, say, the correct usage of ellipses and em dashes in dialogue; or the reason why formatting your paragraphs properly is much better than hitting Return twice every time you need a new one; or why it’s not a good idea to have your characters uttering, enquiring and ejaculating all over the place when plain old saying will do. That last one should be obvious, but you’d be amazed.

I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

W. B. Yeats

A good editor will listen to your authorial voice. They will hear what you are trying to say, and they will help you to say it better. They won’t try to impose their own style, or their own characters, or their own plot. Depending on the kind of editing you’ve employed them to do (that’s a whole other blog post), they may suggest ways that your plot or characters could work better, or to fix plot holes that you haven’t spotted, but they won’t replace your story with theirs. They might stamp out errors – that character in 1980s Britain probably isn’t using a laptop, for instance – but they won’t tread on your dreams.

Every time you use an editor, the chance of your work reaching its creative and commercial potential increases. It’s a competitive market out there, and wouldn’t it be better to have some help than to just shout into the publishing wilderness on your own? A proper editor will cost money, because we have to earn a living, in the same way as the plumber who fixes your leaky loo or the mechanic who mends your motor. Editing your book could represent several weeks’ work for us, and the fees we charge reflect that. But if you’re serious about writing, investing in the right kind of help can be some of the best money you’ll ever spend.

*a fine example of the kind of spelling mayhem that ensues when you don’t employ a decent editor.


Ready to hire an editor? Find out more!