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Hiring and Working With Editors: Do’s & Don’ts

Okay, so you’re a new writer and you realize you need to find yourself an editor to polish your work until it sparkles. There are all kinds of editors out there and you’ll want to do some research to find some appropriate options for you and your book. Review this post from BW founder and… [Read More]

Hiring & working with editors by Karen Conlin for

Okay, so you’re a new writer and you realize you need to find yourself an editor to polish your work until it sparkles. There are all kinds of editors out there and you'll want to do some research to find some appropriate options for you and your book. Review this post from BW founder and veteran editor, Betty Kelly Sargent, for help with that process and then proceed with the following tips from indie book editor, Karen Conlin of Grammargeddon!...

Hiring Editors - Do's

Hiring & working with editors by Karen Conlin for BookWorks.comContact the editor early in the process. Don’t wait until you have the book completely done and are wanting to publish it in a month or two. Because, you see, editors worth their salt are booked months in advance, and they won’t have room on their calendar for a last-minute 100,000-word novel. Somewhere during your first draft, or perhaps during your beta rounds (you do know about beta readers, right?), start contacting prospective editors, and be ready for responses to include statements like “I’m booked for the next four months, but after that I have room for you.”

Read the editor’s required reading for clients. That shouldn’t need to be said, but here we are. On my website, on my personal page, I have provided links to Google Docs about my fee structure and pricing, my services (broken out separately), my expectations, and so on. I didn’t write that stuff to entertain myself. I wrote it because it’s essentially an FAQ for prospective clients, an attempt to answer their questions before they’re asked. Nothing makes me happier than getting an email saying “I’ve read your info page and the documents, and I’d like to ask about booking a slot.” BLESS YOU, MY CHILD.

Here’s an example taken from my required reading (DE is developmental edit or critique in this case):

Hiring & working with editors by Karen Conlin for

Hiring & working with editors by Karen Conlin for

Request a Preview

Ask for a sample edit. Any legit editor will offer one for free. FREE. I ask for a thousand-word chunk of the work you want edited, from anywhere in the manuscript. That amount of text is large enough to give me an idea of your abilities and to let me show you how I’ll handle your precious word-baby. I treat it exactly the same way as I will the entire project once I have money in hand. You’ll see the same kinds of comments, the same kinds of corrections. That gives you an idea of what it’s like to work with me, and together we can decide whether we’re a good team. If we’re not, no harm, no foul, and we both move on. If we are, we talk contracts.

The image below is an actual shot from the editing I did on A Facet for the Gem by C. L. Murray, who was happy to give me permission to share it.Hiring & working with editors by Karen Conlin for

Agree on an Agenda

Hiring & working with editors by Karen Conlin for BookWorks.comGet a clear view of the timetable for the project. I tell my clients it’ll take about a month for me to edit their work. This is true for nearly every project I take on because I limit my word count per month to 100,000—more than that, and both the work and I suffer. I often have two or three projects running concurrently. We agree well ahead of time on the date I am to get the file from the client (the initial turnover date), and the date they can expect it back from me. I make it clear that I will be in touch regularly to keep them updated on progress. I ask them to do the same before that turnover date so we’re always on the same page, so to speak. Which brings me to …

Working with Editors - Don'ts

Hiring & working with editors by Karen Conlin for BookWorks.comDon’t go turtle once you’ve contracted with your editor. Communication is vital to the success of the project. If something happens and you’re falling behind schedule, tell your editor. There’s no need for excruciating detail. Just an email saying “Hey, something happened and I’m not going to make that. Can we push it to (a date that’s a reasonable suggestion based on the situation)?” I guarantee they won’t be angry with you. They’ll be grateful you’ve spoken up, and they’ll shuffle things around for you.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand something in your edits. Doesn’t matter whether it’s a GUMmy thing (grammar, usage, mechanics), a syntax thing, a characterization thing—if you don’t understand it, ask. Again, they won’t get mad. They’ll be happy you asked because editors love to explain their reasoning. (Sometimes over drinks.)Hiring & working with editors by Karen Conlin for

Don’t think you have to accept every suggestion your editor makes. As I tell my clients, unless I’m correcting an actual error, you have the option to tell me to get stuffed. Most of my clients accept 95% or so of my suggestions, so I’m told. The other 5%, they either reject outright or they come up with their own solutions. Both are valid. No skin off my nose. (But if you persist in using “alright,” don’t come whining to me when you get a review that complains about it. I change that, every time. Every. Time.)

Practice Professional Detachment

Lastly, don’t take criticism personally. It’s vital for clients (and editors!) to keep a distance between their work and themselves as people. Criticism of your work is not a criticism of you as a person; it’s saying “this bit here isn’t working as it should, and here’s my suggestion for fixing that.”  Unless you and your editor know one another  (as in, you go out for coffee or a cocktail, or hang out at each other’s homes, or are coworkers), no critical comment about your writing has jack squat to do with you as a person. Maybe the grammar is poor, or the usage is off, or the voice doesn't match the one you’ve established, or the timeline is not making sense or—you get the idea. It’s not about you. It’s about your work.Hiring & working with editors by Karen Conlin for Any editor worth the title understands that, and we also understand that even the kindest suggestions can be difficult to accept. Read over your revision letter, and set it and the file aside for a couple of days or even a week. Come back to it after you’ve processed the fact that your baby’s not perfect (but it’s not on life support, either!), and you’ll be able to proceed. I promise.

This is just a handful of suggestions to consider when hiring and working with editors, but I think they’re the most important ones. Go get ‘em, tiger!


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4 thoughts on “Hiring and Working With Editors: Do’s & Don’ts”

  1. Elle says:

    Well said, thank you. I’m in the developmental editing for my debut novel, a memoir. Knowing not to take comments personally is one thing, and promising myself not to take it personal is another. I keep thinking, “I thought I was a better writer than this, how embarrassing.” Other than feedback from writing peers, this is my first at a big-time editor and quite an experience, but I have confidence he’ll push me to make this book the best it can be, even if through sweat and tears.

    1. Karen Conlin says:

      Hello, Elle.

      Memoir is a very different thing from fiction. I worked on a memoir a couple of years ago, and while I enjoyed the experience, it’s not my cuppa, as they say. I’m a fiction gal for sure. There’s also a world of difference between working with a publishing house (even a small one!) and working with an independent contractor. I’m glad to see that my advice is helpful for you, regardless of the situation. Best wishes for success in your work!

  2. Eleanor Russell-Brown says:

    Great information. I’m printing it out.

    1. Karen Conlin says:

      Thanks for the compliment, Eleanor!

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