Your Obligation to Your Editor

You’ve done all the hard work of writing and pitching a book and now your agent has secured a contract for you. Congratulations! Now you’re set to work with an editor! You may have met the editor at a conference. You may have talked with the editor many times during 15-minute pitch sessions over several years. You may have attended their workshops and spotlight sessions at conferences. This may be your dream editor as a result of that rapport.

Or the editor may be your agent’s contact and is little more than a lovely publicity picture on a website – until now. Still a dream come true to be partnering with this editor. But you might swallow with a little bit of fear.

But know this: both of you have a common goal: to bring the reader your best work. As long as you remember this through the process, you should be feeling good about your work.

There Is More Than One Stage

 Major publishers take a book through several editorial stages.

You’ll find one stage to be sure that the contents of the book make sense and that the story holds together. You may be asked to verify facts, work on timelines, and make changes. You might even discover that the editor wants a complete rewrite. This happens to both new and veteran authors. Now is not the time to get discouraged. Now is the time to work harder than ever. The editor is in that position thanks to hard-won experience, education, and knowledge.

There is also a proofreading process. This is critical since little errors can aggravate readers.

Then you should see a final copy of what the book will look like once it’s in print. The goal here is to catch minute errors, if any. This is a fun part of the process since you get to be a reader of your book and the majority of the work is done.

Be Prepared to Work at Every Stage

When the editorial process gets tough, a writer may wonder if the book needed this many revisions, did anyone really like it in the first place? The editor did and does love your book, but again, it is the editor’s responsibility to bring your best to the reader.

In rare instances, an editor can be unreasonable. If you feel this way, always approach your agent. We’ve seen edits and can help you determine if they are normal. Then we decide where to go from there.

Your turn:

How would you define a dream editor?

What was your best editorial experience? Your worst?


27 Responses to Your Obligation to Your Editor

  1. Sarah Hamaker May 3, 2018 at 5:50 am #

    I would add that the editor has your story’s best interest at heart, and is suggesting/making changes to help your book sell better and connect with readers better. It’s important to view your editor as on your team–when you do, you’ll be in a much better position to make the necessary revisions versus thinking your editor is massacring your “baby.”

  2. Sami A. Abrams May 3, 2018 at 6:26 am #

    Thanks for the information. It’s nice to know what lies ahead.
    My dream editor would be someone who understands my story and is willing to discuss major changes in detail. I want my best work out there, but don’t want to lose my voice or the essence of the story in the process.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray May 3, 2018 at 6:41 am #

      Exactly, Sami. A great editor will keep your voice while making your story stronger!

  3. Kayleen May 3, 2018 at 6:52 am #

    My hardest re-write request was my first attempt at a STEM book (science, technology, engineering, math). It was for Big Ben in London– its history, construction, how it works. My brain doesn’t naturally flow along those lines, but I did the re-write on time and the book was pub’d for Purple Toad Publishing for middle grades.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray May 3, 2018 at 7:05 am #

      Congratulations! That sounds like a challenging and rewarding assignment!

  4. Anne Carol May 3, 2018 at 6:52 am #

    I personally love the editing process. This is a great article!

    A dream editor would be someone who will not only give constructive criticism in weak areas of the manuscript, but will also help guide you along the way. I like it when I can go back and forth with the editor as we work out tougher spots together.

    I’ve worked with two editors on my self-published books and both have been wonderful to work with. They’ve each taught me so much about the writing craft. I’ve been very blessed.

  5. Shirlee Abbott May 3, 2018 at 7:01 am #

    Be an Abraham: put your child (your book) on the altar and have faith that God’s got it covered.

  6. Tamela Hancock Murray May 3, 2018 at 7:06 am #


  7. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser May 3, 2018 at 7:18 am #

    Behold the Editor’s gleaming blade
    held boldly aloft, and dripping red
    from the cruelly random cuts she’s made
    only, it seems, to mess with your head
    and drive you to a kinder, gentler trade
    but then …could it be?..your words aren’t dead,
    she’s brought them to life, her diamond edge
    a surgeon’s tool, her honesty her pledge.

  8. Linda Riggs Mayfield May 3, 2018 at 7:36 am #

    Wow, Andrew! That’s wonderful–a complete and beautiful communication!

  9. Linda Riggs Mayfield May 3, 2018 at 8:38 am #

    Tamela, I try to BE the dream editor. One of the most important elements in the writer/editor relationship is described, if not named, in your post and the Replies: trust. First I assure clients my professional priority is their success, then I practice that. I pledge to give my opinions kindly then am intentional about that. I ask them not to hesitate to express concerns to me and to be willing to talk them through. I ask for the benefit of the doubt if anything I day can be perceived as unkind, and ask that if it happens, they kindly bring it to my attention so I can apologize. Matthew 18:15 is a good business model as well as a church model. It builds trust.

  10. Scott Rutherford May 3, 2018 at 9:42 am #

    A dream editor catches the blind spots we all have when reading our own writing. My best experience with an editor was receiving an 800-word article back with one sentence highlighted and the message: “Here’s your story.”

    Bottom line, he was right and the rewritten story was among my best work.

    My worst experience was in my early days of writing professionally. Like many, I did a lot of writing for content mills. In particular, I wrote lots of “Culture” articles, covering history, politics, religion, etc. The editors there, for the most part, did a good job, but ‘Culture’ was such a wide category that there were often mismatches. Many of the religion articles I wrote were edited by a wonderful lady with expertise in Art History. She (did I say she’s wonderful? She really is, I mean that) could not wrap her head around the idea of ‘one God in three Persons.’

    Can’t say I blame her. Libraries could be filled with the books that have been written trying to explain the doctrine of the Trinity. I would have explained it more thoroughly, but the hard cap on word count was 500 and it was just one of several issues that needed to be addressed in exploring the differences between two denominations’ beliefs.

    She changed ‘persons’ to ‘forms’ and, in the process. Those who are not theology wonks probably don’t see the problem. She certainly didn’t. But in making that change, she essentially represented me as a Sabellian heretic espousing modalism (ironically, the denomination being contrasted in the article has a modalistic approach to the godhead).

    The worst part was content mill’s process didn’t allow for a second round of edits. The article was approved and published with my name and picture. I offered the company their money back, but they wouldn’t unpublish it. After a couple months of hounding them, they finally agreed to take my name off it, changing my name to a pen name for 500+ articles I’d written for them.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray May 3, 2018 at 9:49 am #

      Oh, wow. That’s a great story to show the pitfalls that can happen when writing about sensitive and detailed topics. I’m so sorry that happened to you.

    • Scott Rutherford May 3, 2018 at 9:53 am #

      As I often do, I started to say something, changed my mind about how I wanted to say it, and forgot to go back and delete the beginnings of how I was initially going to phrase it. Worse, I hit ‘post’ and then went back to double check (as I’m entirely too prone to do). Alas, there is no edit/delete feature for comments. Lest I look like a complete idiot, I do see the error in P5.

      • Tamela Hancock Murray May 3, 2018 at 9:56 am #

        No worries. No one thinks you’re an idiot! This is informative yet informal communication here.

  11. Martha Whiteman Rogers May 3, 2018 at 10:37 am #

    I had a dream editor in Lori. She made my work so much stronger. I always read through the whole edited manuscript and then put it aside for a day or two. The anger and frustration after that first read through usually dissipated by then and I was able to make revisions as needed. She never said, “Do it this way or delete this.” Instead of that, she said for me, try moving this here or try saying it another way, or try this and see what I think. The changes were better 95% or more of the time.

    I’ve seen how different editors can be in the way they see things as well. If it changes my voice and the way I normally say things, I will argue to a point, but not beat it dead.

    Thanks for a great article. It really helps to understand the editing process. The irony is that as many times as the manuscript is edited, proof-read and read again, errors can and so occur. Make me cringe when I see it in one of my own.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray May 3, 2018 at 1:18 pm #

      Thanks so much for sharing and for the encouragement, Martha. Much appreciated.

  12. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D May 3, 2018 at 12:00 pm #

    Tamela, thanks for telling us about editors. The only time I have worked with an editor was for my dissertation. My chair of the committee asked for a total of 6 partial re-writes. I got a little discouraged at times but I knew that he had the best interests of everyone, including the university, in mind. By the time he gave me the final go-ahead, I knew that the dissertation was the best it could be and was proud of the results. I think that a good editor has the same goal in mind, except that the editor’s work will give you a book that will have an audience. (Dissertations are used to further research but I never made a dime off of the publishing of mine.)

  13. Claire O'Sullivan May 3, 2018 at 12:10 pm #

    Hi Tamela

    What a timely post for me. I am ignorant of the entire process. I don’t have a contract (yet) with the SLA, though it ‘seems’ promising.

    I’m fixing the content edits requested; now going through books, cheat sheets for my spelling, grammar, and punctuation issues (finding lots I might add…),

    I emailed my (hope-to-be) agent to find out if after this is where I find a proofreader / editor or after it’s reviewed again. It ‘looks’ like after the review before the outside editor. Did I interpret an email correctly that suggests this, and what.. what… ummmmm… OK. See my confusion?

    It looks like after the review of content edit requested, that’s where the contract comes (or not), the edit on my end begins, then the agent helps me with(?) the synopsis to put before the publishing house(s), and if accepted at that point, the publishing house may/probably request another edit.

    I have already committed at least one sin of the ten commandments of overwriting emails to the agent and don’t want to be fired by the SLA.

  14. Kathleen Denly May 3, 2018 at 12:55 pm #

    My dream editor loves my story and does exactly what they are supposed to do – help me make it better no matter how painful the process. Having an experienced editor I can trust is one of the top reasons I’m pursuing the traditional publishing path.

  15. Karin Beery May 4, 2018 at 4:40 am #

    As an editor, I want the authors to succeed as much as THEY want to! I’m not trying to make them feel stupid or point out how much I know. My goal is always to help give their novels their greatest chances at success.

    Does that mean a lot of changes? Often yes, but I tell writers that red means love – good editors mark up manuscripts because they love the books.

  16. David VanAtter May 4, 2018 at 11:12 am #

    Thank you for your continued insight. Finishing the writing part of the project seemed like the most daunting part. Getting a glimpse of the next stages is very exciting.

  17. LINDA GLAZ June 4, 2018 at 7:33 am #

    Well said. And needed to be said. Once authors understand the importance of their editor, their work can actually begin with respect on both sides.

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