I have played many roles in the writer world. I’d put myself as a novelist first, a journalist second, and an editor third, but these positions are far from black and white and they overlap and intersect in many unique and sometimes frustrating ways. To be a writer, you must have the ability to self-edit. To be an editor, you have to sense when phrases don’t sound right. We must be self-editing and rewriting all the time to create the best product possible.
Recently, at the newspaper where I contribute as both a writer and an editor, we had a writer who absolutely went about dealing with the editorial process in the wrong way. Let me preface this by saying, your relationship with your editor is always going to be individual. Mine, for instance, is a friend I’ve worked with for over five years. But I still would never speak to her as this writer spoke to us. Here are a few ways to manage the editing process, so you can achieve the best final piece.
Respect Your Editor
This does seem like it should be obvious, but given this recent interaction, I feel like it’s vital to spell out. You may not agree on everything. In fact, it’s almost a guarantee that you won’t. But you have to respect your editor, which means no yelling, no ultimatums, and no threatening to walk. Is any editor perfect? Of course not, but being defensive, aggressive, or rude is a surefire way to get your project trashed. If you really don’t believe that they’re the right person to be working on this project with you, find someone else. You need to have a good working relationship to achieve your final goal.
The more you stay in communication with your editor, the more time and work you save down the line. You don’t want to find out that you misinterpreted an edit or rewrote a chapter without needing to. Let them know how your process is going and ask them for clarification.
If you have a long-term relationship with them, as I do with my friend, you can even ask them for help during the writing process. Once they get to know your writing and style, they can often clear up things that you can’t seem to work through on your own.
Allow Them Time
While it’s important to say in regular communication with your editor, remember that they have other projects. Whether they work for a publishing house or a magazine or independently, chances are good that they’re going back and forth with several writers on many different projects every day. It’s okay to fight for the time you’re due with them, but don’t get frustrated if they don’t return your email right away.
Don’t Be Afraid to Say No
If you feel your editor is trying to take your voice out of a piece or otherwise change the writing’s meaning, let them know. It’s still your writing. Their job is to ensure it’s as clear, cohesive, and strongly written as possible. If at any point you feel like they don’t quite get what you’re trying to say, let them know and try to find a way to steer back to where you want your work to go.
Remember, They Have Your Best Interests in Mind
Listen, do I want to rewrite the first two chapters of this book? No, not really. But if my editor, whom I’ve worked with on more than half a dozen books, says it’s the right course of action, I listen. She’s not trying to put more work on my desk. She’s trying to make my book as exciting and interesting as possible. In fact, she’s told me to rewrite opening chapters before, and the books were better for it.
Now, if you believe the editor isn’t focusing on making your book better, it’s okay to step back and analyze if they’re the right editor for the job, but most of the time, they’re really in the ring fighting for you.
Embrace Your Editor’s Expertise
Not only is my editor fantastic, but she’s also fluent in three languages besides English and lives in a different country. This means I get information from her that I would otherwise never have access to. She provides insight on things I hadn’t considered in the research stage (in An Education in Edinburgh, I learned that the Brits no longer use stovetop kettles? I use a stovetop kettle!) and she allows me to play around with other languages. Yes, I love her very much.
Don’t Slack On Your Own Edits
Yes, it’s your editor’s job to edit. But by the time you send them the article or book or essay, it should be the very best you could make it. You still need to edit your own work thoroughly and efficiently, both before you send it to them and after you make their changes. The editor is another set of eyes, and a talented one at that, but when you are a writer, you are also an editor.
Know What Kind of Editor You’re Working With
There are many types of editors and some play myriad roles, but it’s important to remember who you’re working with or what kind of editor you’ve hired. A developmental editor will help you with big ideas, structure, characterization, and plot. When you’re ready for copyediting, you’ll dive deeper into line edits, sentence structure, and grammar, and a proofreader will ensure things are ready to go out into the world. Editors often play several different roles, but know what you’re getting into so you can better maximize the experience.
This is a Learning Opportunity
Working with your editor can feel frustrating. We’ve all be there, when our books have to get cut open and rearranged before they can be sewn up again. At my editor’s hand, I have done more than my fair share of midnight edits and Sunday afternoon outlining.
But that’s because, at the end of the day, my editor is teaching me how to be a better writer. They’re pointing out the flaws so I can fix them. When she notes how many times I use certain words, it’s a way to help me avoid repetition in the future. It’s all for the greater good, and it’s all to make my next story even better than the last.
We’ll have many teachers and mentors over our lives as writers, but the right editor might just be the one we treasure the most.