By Elma Schemenauer

Knowing how to work effectively with an editor is useful whether you’re self-publishing or dealing with a traditional publisher. You can work with an editor face to face, online, or a combination of these. The method depends on personalities, distance, budget, etc. Working online is often less time consuming.

  1. Try to foster an attitude of respect and trust between yourself and the editor
    Keep in mind that editors are only human.
  2. Take editorial feedback seriously
    Even if you disagree, the editor represents a viewpoint held by at least a segment of the reading public.
  3. An editor may not hit on an appropriate solution to a problem in your writing
    However, the editor will probably zero in on problem areas. Once these areas have been pointed out, you as the author should try to seek solutions yourself. Sometimes editors, even experienced ones, don’t realize how easy it is for an author to fix a problem. They may make a big fuss about something you can easily repair. The key is to remain businesslike, matter of fact, and not too sensitive.
  4. At first, an editor’s comments can seem overwhelming
    But once you start using them to improve your writing, you may find it’s more fun than you thought. There’s no one right way of writing something, especially nonfiction. Be cooperative, trying to accept the editor’s suggestions if you can. Don’t sweat the small stuff. For example, if your editor doesn’t like the name Dorothea for one of your fictional characters, consider changing it. It’s not a big deal. If you don’t fix problems in your writing, the editor probably will. As a result, you may lose a measure of control over your work. The editor’s revisions may not conform to your vision of the piece or be in your unique tone.
  5. Try to stay on good terms with the editor
    If she thinks you’re uncommunicative, too sensitive, or abrasive, it’s harder for her to do her best with your book. She’s only human.
  6. Editors sometimes advocate drastic restructuring
    For example, taking out a whole section or chapter, moving it, or making it an appendix. Carefully consider such suggestions. Maybe they will benefit the book. Maybe not. Stand up for your way of doing things if you think you must. If you and the editor can’t agree, it may be helpful to get a second and third opinion. If you’re difficult, the editor will remember you as someone who was hard to work with. The publishing industry is small. Reputations develop quickly and can persist for years.
  7. Publishers’ deadlines are often tight
    For example, a magazine editor may be interested in both your article and one written by someone else. If there’s only room for one article, the author who comes through first will probably be the one to see his name and ideas in print. Inform yourself of the periodical’s deadlines and editorial guidelines. You can usually find these on the publisher’s website. It’s also helpful to look at back issues of the publication if available.
  8. Don’t talk too much
    If editors know it will take an hour every time they phone you, they may not be so inclined to work with you.

Learning to incorporate other people’s suggestions and mesh your ideas with theirs is an important skill in writing and in life. On the other hand, you want to maintain the integrity of your work and your unique tone. With experience, patience, and goodwill, you can often find a balance between other people’s preferences and your own.

Elma is the author of 77 published books including YesterCanada: Historical Tales of Mystery and Adventure and the 1940’s Mennonite novel Consider the Sunflowers.

Elma Schumenauer

Elma Schemenauer



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