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

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