Working with Independent Editors (Part 2)

Welcome back to the Wednesday series on publishing as business. Today we’re continuing last week’s discussion about authors working with independent editors. (Find part 1 here.)

Working with independent editors has many similarities to working with an editor at a traditional publishing house. The author provides the editor with a copy of the manuscript, generally in electronic form, and the editor works with the author to make revisions to the work.

Generally speaking, the editor will offer specific line-edits on grammar and form, and make suggestions where more extensive change is required. Few editors will rewrite a book on an author’s behalf.

Instead, the editor points out weaknesses in character, plot and dialogue and makes suggestions to help the author improve them. The work of rewriting those scenes will fall on the author (as it should).

A few things to keep in mind when working with an editor:

1. Time is money – literally in this case, since most independent editors charge by the hour. Ask in advance how the editor tracks and charges for time spent, and make sure you use that time to your best advantage.

For example, a one-hour telephone conversation about minor grammatical issues (many of which could be learned from Strunk & White) might not be as cost-effective as saving that conversation for a discussion of plot points and character development.

2. Learn to Listen to Criticism. Many editors complain that their time and comments seem to go in one ear and out the other, especially where new authors are concerned. Part of this relates to experience. Accepting criticism isn’t a skill most authors learn overnight. It pays to learn how before you hire an editor, to ensure you don’t waste your money on advice you have no intention of following.

3. Learn to Evaluate Criticism Properly. Sometimes, critiques are wrong – even when paid for. Once an author learns to accept and respond professionally to criticism, he or she must also learn to distinguish criticism which helps the work from that which would cause the work to diverge from the author’s voice or intentions. Sometimes the author and editor disagree – and unlike the relationship with the traditional publishing house (where the editor generally wins) the author has the power to say no.

A warning: there’s a vital difference between “advice which would not help my work” and “advice I don’t like hearing/don’t want to follow.” Distinguishing between them takes skill and practice. One way to know the difference is to ask yourself “why did my work make the editor recommend this change?” Editors rarely ask for changes without a reason, and understanding that reason may help you identify why the editor didn’t connect with that part of the work. Even if you don’t make the change the editor suggests, you may find places where other modifications will solve the problem.

4. Remember that the editor is on your side. Authors often develop adversarial relationships with people who try to change their work. The working environment becomes fractious rather than positive. Don’t be that author. Remember that everything the editor does is done for your benefit – and don’t fall into the trap of thinking that payment means the editor is obligated to give you nothing but compliments.

5. Professionalism counts. Hiring an editor doesn’t give an author the right to act like a spoiled child. Publishing depends heavily on reputation – more now than ever before, and unprofessional behavior catches up with everyone eventually. Treat the editor as you expect others to treat you – with courtesy, respect and kindness (even when you disagree with opinions about your work).

The takeaway lesson here is twofold:

– Learn your craft as best you can.

– Don’t be an unprofessional jerk.

Simple advice, and mostly common sense, but true nonetheless. An independent editor isn’t a magic cure for what ails your manuscript. He or she is another tool in the author’s arsenal.

And like any writing instrument, the benefit is proportional to the effectiveness with which you use it.

Have questions about writing or publishing law? Comments about this post? Hop into the comments and let me know, or tweet me @SusanSpann!

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