I know, I know. I don’t like the “clickbait-ey” titles, either, but this just sort of fit with the message this week, so I hope you’ll indulge me the headline. I’ve been seeing a lot of posts on Twitter lately (which is where I tend to hang out, @ehprybylski) and on various other places sharing horror stories authors have about editors they paid money to who either made the manuscript worse or who didn’t do the job the author needed. Some of this is dealing with preditors (spelling intentional), but sometimes it’s because the author didn’t have some very important conversations with their editor before starting that journey.
As with anything you’re going to be spending thousands of dollars on, it’s a smart choice to have some conversations with the person you’re paying to make sure they know what you want and to ensure you both have the same image in your mind of what the finished product looks like. Not talking to your editor about your needs and desires for your book is like not telling the contractor you hired to paint your house what shade of blue you want. There are a lot of variations in that hue, so you need to be more specific than just “blue” or else you’re probably not going to get the one you want. Nobody will be happy.
1) What Kind Of Editing You Want
This is a very important discussion because it tells the editor what exactly you’re looking for. It’s okay if you come to the table not knowing what you want, but if you hire an editor without discussing what kind of editing they’re doing, you might end up spending a whole lot of money for a type of editing you weren’t after. I don’t want to take up a huge amount of the blog by explaining the different types of editing here, but my editing website details the different types of editing if you want more information on them.
A number of the “this editor sucks” posts I’ve seen were because authors either didn’t understand what editing entails (hint: it’s more than just punctuation and grammar!) and had their expectations shattered or because the editor did a different kind of editing than the author expected entirely and didn’t do what they needed. That isn’t to say that a large number aren’t just bad editors–that’s definitely a thing that happens–but clear communication about the scope of work is important.
2) Does That Editor Have Experience In Your Genre
This is an important question to ask your editor before you start work with them–particularly for newbie editors. If the editor has no experience in your genre, and you’re hiring them to do a developmentla edit, you are probably not talking to the right editor for you. While I feel confident that I could do a line or copy edit on most genres, I certainly wouldn’t touch a developmental edit that’s outside the genres I work in (spec. fic., romance, YA) without a clear understanding with the author. I have a friend who wants to hire me to work on her non-fic book, and she really wants to have me work on it. I’ve been clear that I’m not an expert on that, but she’s not getting something she isn’t prepared for.
An editor with no experience in your genre won’t know the genre tenants and may end up doing damage to your book. If a speculative fiction editor is thrown neck-deep into a self-help book, they will have no idea how to structure the flow of chapters or when to give what advice. I know I wouldn’t be comfortable with it at all and would not be the right editor for the job.
3) How To Reach Your Editor
This is a thing I’ve dealt with before. I actually have a clause in my contract about it. Most editors abhor phone calls. We are insular beasts who like email both because there’s a record of the conversation (which can be important) and because having things detailed in writing lets us refer to them later. And we’re antisocial mole people. (At least I am. Hiss.) However, some editors are okay with phone calls at specific times or will allow “x” number per contract.
Knowing how your editor prefers to be contacted will mean you won’t ruffle feathers with them by using the wrong method and jarring them out of their work. I’ve also had clients who have boundary issues and liked to call me at 10pm and talk for hours. Every. Day. As much as I liked the person, that really made it hard to work, and it meant that my personal life was taking a hit. Also, they were in a differet time zone which meant for them it wasn’t calling particularly late in the evening, but for me it was the time when I turn into a potato and play video games and am thoroughly done with work. (See antisocial mole people.)
I am fine with authors contacting me on Discord or (for some select folks) Facebook Messenger. Some editors only want to contact their clients through email because they prefer to keep all their professional communique in one place. As such, it’s wise to know how your editor prefers to function.
4) Understand The Scope Of Work
Ah, the good ol’ scope of work, the archenemy of “scope creep.” This is a common issue I see between editors and authors. Without a clearly-defined scope of work between author and editor, it can end up in frustration for both parties when the editor is quite sure the job is finished and the author feels like they didn’t get their money’s worth. Many editors will have a scope of work clause in their contract, and it’s a wise thing to put together.
What this means is that the time, energy, and scope of the edits are defined before work begins. How many passes through the manuscript the author receives for the fee they are paying, how many phone calls/emails you get through the process, how many revisions an editor is willing to make to a final document, whether or not the editor provides an editorial letter detailing their thoughts on the manuscript (most do), and what have you. If you know in advance what the editor is going to do, it creates structure and boundaries for the relationship so the author knows what to expect and the editor is not subject to endless future emails of, “a reader found a typo on page 15, and I’m mad about it.”
I’ve seen emails like that before. No manuscript is perfect no matter how many rounds of editing are done on it, and editors are also human. Missing a handful of small errors after correcting thousands of them in a document is a better ratio than you think. So don’t be surprised if there is a typo on page fifteen.
5) Sample Edits
Many editors, myself included, will provide sample edits to prospective clients as a method of showing the client our editing style as well as getting a feel for what kind of work the manuscript needs. Sample edits may range in length and type depending on the editor, but it is always a reasonable question to ask if you are trying to decide if an editor is going to work for you. Plus, if their editing style just does not work for you at all, it is best to know that before going into a multi-thousand-dollar agreement. Some editors may offer refunds, but many of us do not because while customer satisfaction is important, we cannot take back the hours upon hours we have put into your manuscript just because you and I have different styles.
The best way to go about getting a feel for multiple editors is to send them all the same passage from somewhere in the middle of your book (if that falls within their sample edit clause) and compare the changes they all make. Editors are much like writers in that we all have a unique editorial “voice” and will make different subjective edits to various books. While we all might agree that a particular comma or some such is inaccurate, we may all have different ideas on how to re-word an awkward sentence or whether or not an adjective or adverb needs to go. That doesn’t mean one editor is “right” and the others are “wrong” on these subjective edits, but some may work better or worse with your personal style, and that’s something we all understand.
These five conversations will do a lot to help you communicate effectively with your editor and save you a lot of misery, frustration, and money. It will also save the editor frustration and hair-pulling because these conversations are just as important for us to have. Now, I will guide my clients through these conversations if they don’t know to have them, as will many other editors, but if you come to the table prepared it will be a pleasant surprise for your editor and show that you have a better handle on what to expect.
E. Prybylski has been in the publishing industry as an editor since 2009, starting at Divertir Publishing and eventually partnering with her close friend Richard Belanger to begin Insomnia Publishing.
Ever since childhood, E. has been an avid reader and writer of fantasy. The first chapter book she remembers reading is The Hobbit, followed swiftly by most of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series. In high school, she perfected the skill of walking while reading without slamming into anyone. Mostly.
When she isn’t reading or writing, E. is an active member of the Society for Creative Anachronism and has a B.A. in European history from SNHU. In addition to her many historical pursuits, E. is a musician of multiple instruments, a cat mom, and a loving wife to her husband, J. E. also speaks out for the disability and chronic illness communities being a sufferer of chronic migraines and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.
4 thoughts on “Five Conversations To Have With Your Editor”
Excellent advice. I wish more authors understood that communicating with the editor would prevent almost all of their “bad editor” problems.
Definitely so. There are absolutely bad editors out there who don’t treat clients well. I’ve worked with clients who had real nightmare experiences. But more often than not, clear communication about expectations and needs between editor and client is going to prevent confusion.
Communicating, and doing so from the start, would also help authors avoid truly incompetent editors. They’re much easier to spot than the ones who are highly skilled but difficult to work with.
Absolutely so. It can also save you from crossing wires with competent ones who think you want one thing when you want another.