8 Things I Wish Authors Knew About Working With an Editor

8 Things I Wish Authors Knew About Working with an Editor 2Authors who have never worked with an editor before sometimes come into the process with a few (or a lot of) misconceptions. While I do my best as editor to clear things up from the get go, I think it’s worthwhile for authors to be educated about the process as soon as possible. You may be years away from needing an editor, or you may have already hired an editor for the first time and are waiting with anticipation for your first bit of feedback. Either way, the following items may make working with an editor, whenever that happens, a little less mystifying.

1. You may not need an editor

Let’s start here, shall we? If you’re a beginning writer, you may not want to spend good money on an editor… yet. An editor’s objective is to help you get your manuscript ready for publication or submission. If you still need a few years to hone your craft, however, you may want to wait before working with an editor. A year or two in a quality critique group may serve you better.

That being said, I have had the occasional client who has chosen to work with me on an instructional level, in spite of my frank discussions with them that editing costs for a project can be very high when you’re using your editor as a teacher. For these clients, they consider it an investment in their long-term writing skills. On my end, there are many factors I look at before agreeing to take on a client in this fashion. If I do agree, I carefully manage the logistics of the project to keep costs as low as possible.

For you, as the writer, be aware that even though high-quality, one-on-one instruction can accelerate your learning process, particularly when you’re able to apply skills and concepts to a working manuscript, there may still be a certain amount of time and practice you’ll need to put into your writing before it gets to a professional level. I say “may” because I have seen astronomical improvement in some of my clients in a very short amount of time, but that is not the norm.

Writers should not feel discouraged if that is not their experience.

Writing a novel is an incredibly advanced skill. It takes time to master all the elements that go into crafting a good novel. Be patient with yourself and have fun with the learning process!

2. Editors tend to be booked out

I once saw an author share their plan for getting their first book published. (I don’t remember if I saw this on SM or on someone’s blog or what.) Anyway, he had everything mapped out to the day, from writing the first draft to uploading his book to Amazon. It’s great to think about our goals in such concrete, specific ways, even if we have to make adjustments along the way. Kudos to this author for getting serious instead of just dreaming about writing that book and vaguely thinking, “Someday…”

However, his schedule will most definitely need to be adjusted. He gave himself one or two days to “Find an editor,” and then scheduled the editor to start working on his book the next day.

Sorry. No.

While any editor can have dead spots in their schedule from time to time (such is the nature of freelancing), most good editors are booked out for a while. I’m usually booked out 2-6 months.

Along those lines…

3. You may not get the first editor of your choice

If you’re smart, you’re giving a lot of thought to who you want to work with. You’re checking to make sure they’re skilled and that they’re a good fit for your project. That’s good!

Keep in mind, when you approach an editor, they’re making similar evaluations.

Is it a genre they enjoy and are qualified to edit? Does your specific story intrigue them? Do you seem like the kind of author they want to work with? (I look for projects that excite me, and authors who are committed to their craft and seem like they’ll be enjoyable to work with.)

Be prepared for the possibility that you may choose an editor (and be really excited about that person), only to have the editor decide your project is not right for them. This can be a disappointing setback, but is much better for you in the long run. You don’t want an editor working on your project just for the payday. They should be excited about it. They will serve you and your story best that way.

Above all, don’t take it to mean your story is “bad.” It just wasn’t right for that editor.

Along those lines, keep this in mind…

4. An editor is not there to wave the Holy Wand of Approval (or, Be prepared for honesty)

We are not agents or acquisitions editors. Don’t send us your manuscript just to hear us say you’re brilliant and destined for the best sellers list. I know I can’t keep you from fantasizing. I get that, and it’s okay. So long as you understand, it is a fantasy.

Editors are there to help you make your manuscript better. That means that while we’ll talk about what’s working, we’ll spend most of our energy addressing what’s not working. That is, after all, what you’re paying for. Would you want your mechanic to charge you by the hour, then spend two hours detailing all the things that aren’t broken? No.

While we editors do sometimes act as cheerleader and coach, our primary function is to diagnose problems and help you correct them. Like you, we want readers to love your story. We want it to be the best you can make it.

5. Be ready to get to work

An editor will always find at least one major issue with your draft, regardless of your skill set, level of experience, or the number of times you’ve revised it.

This is good. This spares you the embarrassment of readers finding those same errors and leaving you 1-star reviews, or worse, ignoring your book altogether.

So, send your manuscript to your editor with the mindset that it will come back with work for you to do. Most likely, a lot of work, because we’re not talking about a little magazine article, we’re talking about a novel hundreds of pages long.

No small task, that.

That’s okay with you, though, right? Because if you’re a novelist and you’ve made it as far as writing a first draft, I’m willing to bet you have plenty of passion and tenacity. It’s the only thing that gets us writers through that many pages and that much story.

You’ll draw on that same passion and tenacity as you revise, and you’ll have the insight and guidance of your editor to help you shape your manuscript into a story that sings.

6. All professional authors need an editor, regardless of skill level

If you’re a professional author, you already know this. If you’re new and think editors are just for writers who aren’t good enough yet, think again. You will always, always need a skilled set of eyes to look at your manuscript in the way you cannot because you’re too close. It’s that simple.

7. It’s okay to disagree with an editor

While we’re here to make sure the story works, it’s still your story. It needs to be told in your voice, and you need to be happy with the final vision. With experience, you’ll be able to tell if you’re disagreeing with your editor for valid reasons or if you’re just being defensive because your ego is hurt. Be willing to look at yourself honestly. It’s something we must be able to do as writers. Don’t make it personal. Make it about your story.

If you disagree with an editor’s suggestion and think it’s for good reason, it’s okay to say so. It’s actually important to say so. Don’t be afraid to speak up. :)

8. Editors genuinely care about you and your project

If you don’t know this going into it, you’ll probably figure that out on your own. I love my authors and want them to be successful. I think this is an important quality for every editor to have.

In the end, your first time working with an editor may have a few bumps, but that’s okay. It’s to be expected when we’re going through something new. In most cases, though, things smooth out pretty quickly.

Do you have more things to add to the list? If so, feel free to share below. :)


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    I enjoyed listening to you on the editors panel Friday. It was good to hear you live among us here in Boise. I pitched my middle grade genre doggy short story to an agent and was told it should be longer. Otherwise, it could be shortened and heavily illustrated for a pre-K to 2nd grade. Would you be interested in sorting out or commenting on this small project? Please include your fee structure if you would like to see the story.


    Ricky Dye, M.A.

    • 2

      Donna CookDonna Cook says

      Hi Ricky,

      Thank you for your interest. I don’t handle this type of story, but if you reach out via my contact form on this site, I’ll see if I can send you a referral.

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        Donna CookDonna Cook says

        Please don’t post personal data on this website. :) Send me an email via the contact form as requested and I’ll see what I can do.

  2. 4

    Ricky Dye says


    I have finished a memoir of 80,000 words. I used Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey as a template. I built the Trans-alaskan Pipeline, married and buried my Dutch wife. Made money and later went broke in the oil business, got sober, returned to college, lived in Europe, shook hands with Prince Phillip, lived in Africa, had a brush with suicide, now living mindfully in the present.

    Does my life story interest you?

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