I receive messages to my Instagram almost on the daily from young writers, and many of those messages are to do with working with editors. Author to editor etiquette isn’t something that’s often spoken about, leaving many authors worried about starting off on the wrong foot or unintentionally irritating their editor with a request.
While there are plenty of articles out there explaining what an author can expect from their editor, there isn’t much out there to explain exactly what editors are expecting from their clients. So today I’m introducing a two-part series and mass collaboration! How to Make Your Editor Frown and How to Make Your Editor Smile.
Today, we’ll be going into all the different ways you might risk getting on the wrong side of your editor. This post is a collaboration involving eight different editors (including me!). If you’re interested in any of them, take the time to check out their social media profiles and/or websites linked beneath their contribution.
Mary DeSantis from Kit N’ Kabookle said:
“Being asked ‘How's it going?’ a lot.”
This may not make me frown for the reason you think. Okay, it is a bit annoying to get lots of emails with the same question. I have to take time out of my busy schedule to respond. More than that, though, an author repeatedly asking this question makes me feel like they aren't confident in their work, and that makes me sad. Writing is tough and scary. I know. But if you really want to tell a story, own it. Write it. Believe it's good. Even if I come back with ‘X, Y, and Z need a lot of help, and we should start with a developmental edit,’ you wrote a story that has the potential to be something great. It might take longer and more work than you thought initially, but manuscripts are only unfixable if you give up on them.
I would like to add to this that it is perfectly okay to ask your editor how things are going, but go easy on the emails. Any reliable editor will inform you that they’ll check in every few days, or once a week or so. You are always going to be welcome to message them in-between those check-ins if you have any specific concerns, questions, updates, or comments, but if you’re only checking in because you’re feeling antsy about receiving feedback, perhaps hold back until the next time your editor updates you on their progress. Checking in too often can make you seem unconfident in your work - like Mary said - but it can also give the impression you’re not confident in your editor. While your work is with your editor, you have a chance to relax. Take a break from writing, practice self-care. Leave it to us, and we’ll get back to you when we can!
Mary “wants to meet your story!” You can find her on her website.
Anonymous Editor said:
“Asking questions that can be easily Googled.”
I’m looking to help you, yes, but some authors need to understand that editors aren’t Google, and we often have busy schedules. If we request a synopsis from you, for example, and you don’t know what one is or how to write one, it is your responsibility to Google and find out. Some editors charge for the extra coaching, so often won’t be able to afford to go into detail with things you want without prior notice and a scheduled chat. For this reason, don’t be offended if all you receive back is a link to a blog post or website answering your question.
On this one, I do have to agree. Asking your editor for lengthy explanations on things that you could easily go and research yourself is taking them away from focusing on your project.
Nicola Aquino from Spit & Polish Editing said:
“[When authors] don't do at least a cursory read through to ensure details are where they should be.”
I do developmental editing so I expect early drafts, but authors who write in Scrivener often describe items/scenes when they first write them—which might not be when they first appear in the story—and/or they miss the transition paragraphs between chapters. Both result in a lot of scrolling to fix.
I would add on to this to say that you should always be ensuring you submit your best possible work to your editor. That doesn’t mean your manuscript has to be the best that it can be, but it should be at the best you can make it alone. This means you should always do a final read through to make sure your formatting is tidy, any highlighted areas or unsolved comments are dealt with, and simply that your writing itself is the best that you can make it. Handing over a poorly formatted manuscript only makes things more difficult for your editor; if we can’t read it, we can’t edit it to the best of our abilities. Formatting doesn’t need to be elaborate or even close to print layout, but your paragraphs should be clear, your line spacing should be above 1.5, and your font should be standard.
Nicola provides “developmental editing to remove inconsistencies that may jar a reader out of the story.” You can find her on her website.
Tiffany Grimes from Burgeon Design and Editorial said:
“When clients are rude.”
Editors are here to make your book better, and we try really hard to be nice, positive, and constructive! Your book is personal, so it’s understandable you might be upset with the feedback, especially if you felt like something wasn’t understood. Take the time to sit with the feedback before chatting with your editor to avoid lashing out. We’re only human!
This one speaks for itself. Sometimes all it takes to seem impolite is a lack of gratitude. It can be very demotivating when you’re working with someone who doesn’t seem to value your work. Editors are people too; treat them as you would wish to be treated!
Tiffany “[works] with fiction writers at every stage of the writing process—from first draft to proposal package.” Find her at her website or on Instagram @burgeondesignandeditorial.
Rebecca from Rebecca Millar Editorial also said:
Never underestimate the power of politeness. Editors do what they do because they want to help authors improve their manuscripts. However, it's much harder to give your all to this task when the author isn't treating you with respect. Editing is a collaborative process; it's all about building a rapport between author and editor. So your editor is much more likely to go above and beyond for you if your communications are a pleasant experience. As the adage goes: treat others how you wish to be treated!
Rebecca is an “editor specialising in crime, thriller, and suspense. Working together to make the manuscript the best it can be.” You can find her @bring.your.own.book on Instagram, or on her website.
Katie McCoach from KM Editorial said:
"Not even considering the advice the editor provided."
This happens rarely, but it still happens: an author comes to me for developmental feedback but then fights and/or rejects every recommendation and edit. Receiving feedback is difficult and can be emotional, but it’s important to remember that an editor wants to see you succeed! They are using their skills to help you grow. If I ask a question in the manuscript, it’s because that information is missing. If I make a recommendation, it’s to give the author ideas to enhance. Not every edit needs to be accepted. Not at all! But if you are going to hire a content editor, know what you are in for. The editor spends hours upon hours on your manuscript. They are providing feedback in order to help you tell #yourbeststory, so let them!
On a similar line, I’ll also add that authors should avoid coming into a project with a big head. It’s usually quite easy to tell when an author has a big head. In their query, they like to mention their years of experience, awards they’ve won, but more than likely will slip in a little ‘I don’t expect there’ll be much for you to do’. The problem with big-headed authors isn’t their confidence - we should all be confident in our work! - it’s actually their response to feedback. An overconfident author will be less likely to take constructive feedback on the chin and act on it. They’ll return on the defensive, and might even end up insulting their editor (on purpose, or by accident). Come into projects with an open mind. Be confident, but keep your opinions neutral until you’ve heard your editor out.
Katie "is a book coach and developmental editor. She’s been helping authors grow their best stories since 2012." You can find her on her website, or on Instagram @kmeditorial.
Hannah from Between the Lines Editorial said:
“Not [sending] your manuscript by the agreed-to start date!”
We understand that the creative process sometimes makes scheduling tricky, but if you've agreed to a start date, please send us your manuscript by that date! And if you know in advance you need to extend the deadline, let us know ASAP. Sticking to deadlines helps us organize our work schedules and ensures your book will be published on time.
Delaying when your editor can get started on your project can not only delay your publication date (or have you rushing through your final stages before publication, which is never good!), but it can also have a knock on effect for the rest of your editor's projects with authors. They will do whatever they can to prevent that from happening, and if that means rushing a little through your project to ensure other clients aren’t negatively affected, so be it! So please keep to the schedules set out by your editor!
“The only thing [Hannah loves] more than a large mocha with soy? Helping writers polish their stories and get published.” You can find her on her website or on Instagram @btleditorial.
So! To summarise...
Avoid checking in too frequently out of impatience. Check in if you have something useful for your editor, or you have a question you need answering.
If you have general question, research the answer yourself before you ask.
Refrain from submitting a first draft. You might feel eager, but it’ll mean a lot more work for you and your editor.
Don’t lash out if feedback isn’t as positive as you were expecting.
Avoid going in with a big head; consider all feedback. You don't have to agree every time, but at least hear your editor out.
Don’t miss deadlines you’ve agreed on with your editor. It has a knock-on effect!