Maybe you've heard other authors complaining about What Went Wrong with That Editor or maybe that was even you. Let me help to spare you that outcome by sharing my list of the 5 Author Mistakes to Avoid When Working with Editors:
—Not reading the information the editor provides
—Jumping the gun (or “Here’s my crappy first draft, I hope you can fix it”), which is closely related to
—Assuming editors are teachers, which leads us to
—Assuming an editor’s suggestions are laws and therefore unassailable
Let’s look at each of those in detail, shall we?
Author Mistakes to Avoid #1: Not Reading the Editor's Info
If the editor has a website, read it. Maybe not every paragraph on every page, but I bet if you look at the menu or the top banner, you’ll find the pertinent details. If they have information about their fee structure, read it before you ask questions. Trust me, we can always tell when you haven’t. If the first question I get is “How much would you charge for...” I stop reading right there and direct the querent to my site, and tell them to click the link about my fees. The info is readily available. Avail yourself of it.
It saves the editor time responding to questions that have already been answered (on the website or linked from it), and it makes you, the potential client, look like you know what you’re doing. (Which you've already partially demonstrated by being smart enough to know you need a professional editor.)
Author Mistakes to Avoid #2: Jumping the Gun
Very few copy editors will accept a first draft. It’s just plain not ready for prime time. Now, if you’re working with a writing coach, that may be a different story. Don’t confuse the two. Writing coaches help you get the story written, so you can move to the next step. Editors (of various kinds) are a couple of steps beyond that. Your crappy first draft (or CFD, so called because, well, it’s the first draft with no polishing or beta reading or editing so yeah, it’s crappy) is not ready for editing. It’s ready for you, dear author, to put it aside to age for a while and then come back to it with fresh eyes and mind, and get to working on the second draft. And the third, the fourth, or however many it takes to tell the story you want told the best way you can tell it.
So no. Don’t email your CFD to an editor in hopes they can fix it. They can’t, and they won’t. Do that, and you’ve made the classic mistake of…
Author Mistakes to Avoid #3: Assuming Editors Are Teachers
Some of us were, in years gone by. Some might be now, in addition to their editing work. But as an editor, our job is not to teach you English. We’re not Comp 101 instructors or remedial English instructors. Some of our edits might well help you learn more about English, but the purpose is not to teach to you write a complete sentence or to learn to punctuate. You should know those basics already. (And if you need some brushing up, I shared some of my fave resources to have on hand in my earlier post on self-editing tools.)
Author Mistakes to Avoid #4: The Editor's Word is Law
Assuming an editor’s suggestions are laws and therefore unassailable: Well, some of them are, and some of them aren’t. Correcting incorrect grammar, mechanics, or usage are pretty unassailable, sure. Errors are errors. But. (And it’s a BIG but.) There’s also register to think about, and speaking for myself, I make sure that my suggestions include comments explaining WHY they’re suggested. Like: “If you want to stick with the usage that no one will bat an eyelash at, go with [insert suggestion here]. As you’ve written it, some readers/reviewers will likely wonder why you made that choice, because it’s [and here I say something like nonstandard, casual register, British English, 19th century slang …] and therefore doesn’t fit as well here.”
If we’re not correcting an actual error (like spelling the word “green” G-R-E-A-N), our suggestions are just that: suggestions. You, the client, can always ask us to explain them further if you want to know more. Or, you can accept them without asking. It’s your money, after all.
That brings me to the fifth thing, and it’s huge...
Author Mistakes to Avoid #5: Expecting Perfection
Editors are fallible. Humans. Imperfect. It's not just author mistakes, editors make mistakes too, just like everyone else. We will not see everything that’s wrong. Even armed with spelling checkers, grammar checkers, shelves of reference books, and proofreading software, errors will slip through. Are we happy about that? Of course not. Yet we strive to catch everything, even knowing that we won’t. At least one client of mine routinely sends my final file to a proofreader, who always finds a handful of things. Tiny things. Does that mean I didn’t do my job? Nope. It means I’m human, and it’s a good idea to have a proofreader AND an editor, and preferably not the same person. (Hire an additional pair of eyes before you publish, it's worth it!)
It’s not that we’re leaving errors for you to find, like some twisted scavenger hunt. But there will be errors. It’s not unusual to have an edit for an inexperienced writer on, let’s say, 150,000 words that takes over 25,000 revisions (insertions, deletions, moves, comments). A 95% accuracy rate would mean you’d find 1,250 errors: missing articles, transposed words, incorrect punctuation, and so on. Will you find that many? Highly unlikely. You might find five. Five, out of 25,000 that were caught. Perspective matters.
Let’s review the 5 author mistakes you won't be making with your own editor.
Read the information your editor provides you, before contacting them. Once you’re in contact, if the editor sends you something like, let’s say, an author preference form, read it, fill it out, and send it back. (For instance, mine asks whether you use British or American English conventions and serial commas, whether you like “all right” or “alright” in dialogue, whether you have a preferred style guide, etc.) This can help you decide if you're a match.
Don’t send the editor your CFD (crappy first draft), because it’s not ready for an editor. Keep it, work on it yourself (and maybe with a critique partner or some beta readers), and when you’ve gotten it as polished as you possibly can on your own, then send it. Any editor worth hiring will tell you the same thing. No CFDs.
Don’t assume an editor will teach you. You are likely to learn a few things, but that’s because your editor is careful to explain their edits. That way you can differentiate between errors and suggestions.
Don’t assume you cannot question the edits. I have one client who routinely chooses “Option C” when I’ve made a suggestion. He sees the issue with the original, and rather than take my suggestion he comes up with his own reworking. I love it. He’s thinking, he’s learning (see? I’m not teaching, but he’s learning), and the work is stronger for it. Then when I get the file back for the final pass, I ensure all of his Option C’s are grammatically correct, and we’re good to go.
So...don’t expect 100% perfection. Expect 95%, maybe 97%. Know that your editor strives for that magical 100 and that your editor is human.