Eva van Emden (she/her), freelance editor

Certified copy editor and proofreader


January 31, 2013

Editing fiction: The author-editor relationship

I attended a workshop recently on fiction editing, taught by Caroline Adderson. One of the best parts was getting her perspective on what makes for good author-editor communication. Here are some things she talked about.

Be enthusiastic

The author has worked on this book for years. They want to hear that you like it.
  • Say that you like the book.
  • Show that you care about the book and are committed to making it a success.
  • If you’re given a manuscript to work on that you don’t like, find something positive to say about it.
  • Hearing the editor say things like “I’m really excited to be working on this project” means a lot to the author.

The process of working together

A meet and greet phone call is helpful to establish rapport. Don’t leave the author in suspense. Tell them when you’ll start work, and let them know if there’s a delay so they aren’t left wondering whether you’re working on it yet, and what you think. When you do start work, let the author know and, again, say something positive about the manuscript so far (“I love the first chapter”).

Asking for changes

  • Always show respect for the author’s hard work first. Start by talking about what you liked.
  • Don’t follow a positive statement with “but.” It will cancel out the positive value of what came before.
  • Don’t let your comments take on the tone of telling the author where they’re going wrong; explain that you had trouble understanding something and ask if they can make it clearer.
  • Be very specific. Refer to exact spots in the manuscript and explain clearly what you think could be done differently. It’s even better if you can refer to another spot in the manuscript where the author has done what you’re asking for.
  • Suggest the change in a query instead of making it yourself. Marking up the text, even with track changes, comes across as far more heavy-handed than asking for the change in a comment.

A good writer wants to write a good book

A good writer cares most about producing a good book, so if you phrase your suggestions as ways to improve the manuscript, not the writer, the writer will find it easier to get on board. When you suggest that material be cut, soften the pain by emphasizing that the material is good, it’s just not right for the manuscript. You can suggest that the material be saved and used somewhere else.

Caroline said, “When you have a wonderful editor, you write the book for the editor.”

More on the author-editor relationship

January 17, 2013

The Publishing Business: From P-books to E-books by Kelvin Smith

Looking for an overview of the publishing industry? This book is written for the student preparing for a career in publishing. It provides a comprehensive overview, including the main areas of publishing (trade fiction, scientific and technical, educational, etc.), the tasks and jobs involved, and the process of how a publisher acquires material, produces a book, and sells the book. There’s plenty of attention to the economics, marketing, and branding of publishing, balanced with awareness of ethical issues.

The Publishing Business was released last August, and the case studies and discussion of recent developments in e-book rights and marketing are up to date. My favourite thing: the book is a big, attractive softcover with lots of colour pictures and visual interest. I recommend the book to anyone who’s considering working in publishing or simply wants to know more about how books are made.

I got this book as a door prize at an EAC-BC meeting. Iva Cheung, who kindly donated the book, has written a more comprehensive review.

What’s a reasonable e-book price?

One of the most interesting parts of The Publishing Business is a breakdown of publishing costs, which begins to clear up something I’ve been wondering about: loss leaders aside, why are the prices of e-books so close to the prices of paper books? Shouldn’t e-book buyers benefit from the savings in printing and shipping that this medium brings?

Sure. But printing and shipping are a smaller part of publishing costs than I thought. An e-book doesn’t incur the cost of printing, warehousing, distribution, and unsold stock, but it still needs to be written, edited, designed, laid out, and marketed. Even electronic distribution costs money.

According to The Publishing Business (page 63), the publisher’s costs break down approximately as follows:

  • marketing, warehousing, distribution, and unsold stock: 30%;
  • author’s royalty: 10%;
  • production (editing, design, and printing): 20%; and
  • other overhead (salaries, office, etc.): 30%.
Now consider that retailers typically keep about 45% of the cover price.* Given the possible savings in warehousing, distribution, unsold stock, and printing, I would guess that something like 20% of the cover price could be saved in e-book production.

That’s not a big difference. The $2.99 e-book may work when it comes after a higher-priced run that pays the bills, but if e-books are to be the dominant medium, they have to cost more than three dollars, or something’s got to give.

* E-book retailers may only take about 30%, but typically the author royalty is higher for e-books (The Publishing Business, page 36).

Reviewed from my own copy of the book.