Working with a Professional Editor: Part 2 – How It Works

Working with a Professional Editor: Part 1 – Finding the Right Editor

In this post, the second in response to a question about how writers work with freelance editors, I’ll describe how I work with clients. Other editors may work differently, but you should have a general idea of how your editor works based on the questions you asked in the decision-making process.

A typical editing process includes:

  • First, the editor should understand your goals and vision for your book. Why did you write the book? What do you hope to accomplish? Will you seek traditional publication or do you plan to self-publish? How do you intend to market the book?
  • You and editor mutually agree on the timing and degree of the editor’s involvement. I prefer to begin working with an author early in the process and edit chapter by chapter rather than waiting to receive the completed manuscript. Many of my clients are first-time authors who haven’t fully developed their writing skills. If I start working with them from the first chapter, they can learn from the edits. As their writing improves, less editing is needed on later chapters. More experienced writers – or writers who have already completed the manuscript – can, of course, send the entire manuscript at one time. Some editors do not want to get involved in a project until the author has completed the manuscript.
  • Cost and payment arrangements are determined. I require a deposit to begin work, then I invoice throughout the process as each increment is completed. Some editors require half in advance and half on completion.
  • The writer sends the manuscript as a Word (or rtf) document in an e-mail attachment. You and the editor must be able to work in the same document, and Microsoft Word is the most widely used word processor. I learned long ago that trying to convert to other formats can lead to strange characters and formatting, so you both need to use the same program. RTF can be read in almost any word processing program.
  • The editor makes changes and corrections. Although some editors work on hard copies or in a separate file, I like to make changes directly in the document using Word’s Track Changes. The writer can see exactly what changes were made and can choose to accept or reject each change. I return both the marked-up copy and a clean copy – reading the marked-up copy can become confusing. Most writers prefer to review the clean copy and use the version with tracked changes only as a reference. I do ask writers to read my comments and answer any questions I ask. If something wasn’t written clearly, I usually rewrite it so it is understandable, but I always ask the writer to make sure the changes accurately reflect what the writer meant. Often beginning writers have specific problem areas (such as not knowing how to format dialogue); I put the dialogue in paragraphs and use quotation marks appropriately, then explain in comments what I did and why. If the manuscript is being edited chapter by chapter, the author can write dialogue correctly in future chapters. I try to teach as well as edit.
  • The editor returns the manuscript to the writer for review and revision. The writer accepts and/or rejects changes, answers questions, and returns the document to the editor.
  • The process continues as each chapter or increment is completed. Even if the writer sends me the entire manuscript, I edit in increments. This ensures that I don’t get off-track. If the writer doesn’t agree with one or more of my suggestions, I discuss (usually by e-mail but sometimes by phone) why the author disagrees. If I believe not making the change will decrease the chances of the book’s success, I’ll explain my reasoning based on my experience and knowledge of the publishing industry. The writer is the final authority, but I take seriously my responsibility to make the manuscript the best it can be to achieve the author’s goals. If the writer wants the book to be a commercial success, I do all I can to make that happen.
  • After the manuscript has been edited, the second round of editing begins. I don’t believe the work is done when the first edit is finished. Some errors always slip the first time (and several times after that), and the revisions may have introduced new errors. For example, moving a paragraph may result in an awkward transition. In the second edit, I go through without significant time lapse between increments. Often there are several more rounds of edits before the book is complete. More experienced writers may not need as much editing, but writers who have had no training or experience in writing may need a number of edits. If the writer is local, we may read the manuscript aloud – you’ll be amazed at the things you catch reading aloud that you miss reading silently.
  • The final round of editing is a quick read-through, preferably after putting the manuscript aside for some time. Since I prefer to read electronically, I put what I hope is the final draft in my e-book reader to read for enjoyment. Whenever possible, this is best done a week or more after the final editing so I’m reading with a fresh perspective. Invariably, something will show up at this point as well.
  • If the writer is self-publishing, the book will be proof-read at least twice: after the design is completed and after the book is typeset. Many of my clients like me to proofread at these stages, but others prefer to do this themselves.

Since I strive to meet each client’s individual needs, I remain flexible. This is a general outline of how I usually work, but if you choose me as your editor and prefer changes, I’ll be glad to do what I can to accommodate your requests. Other editors may work differently – understand and agree on how you will work together before you hire an editor.

Please share your experiences – as an editor or an author who has worked with an editor. If you have questions, ask in a comment. I will answer, either in a comment or in a new post.

[tags]editing, working with an editor[/tags]

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