What Not to Do When Working with an Editor

No matter how you publish, you need to turn your work over to an editor. If you traditionally publish, the publisher typically provides editors. (Yes, more than one.) If you self-publish, you must hire a similar team of editors. Doing so ensures you produce a book that stands up to industry standards, which means your final product doesn’t stick out of the pack as “indie.” However, once you gather your editorial team, you need to know how to ensure these professionals want to continue working with you. You don’t want them to fire you! That’s what Blake Atwood (@batwood) discusses in today’s guest post—how to hang on to great editors once you find them.

ID-100165702I’m not the first to say it, nor will I be the last, but I’ve learned this truth over my years as a writer: everyone needs an editor.

Discovering whom that editor may be can be a daunting task, especially for self-published authors shouldering the burdens of writing, production, and marketing. But finding that other writing professional who’s not afraid to tell you the unvarnished truth is often worth more than what they charge. If an editor visibly and ultimately makes your book a better book, you’ll want to latch onto them for all of your future projects.

Yet there are particular ways you could unintentionally curb your appeal to a new editor, possibly forsaking a healthy writer/editor relationship that could better prepare your books. In other words, here are a few suggestions as to what not to do when working with an editor.

While I mostly work as a copyeditor, the following short advice could just as well apply to writers seeking developmental editors too.

Ask for more than what’s been agreed upon.

Ironically enough, bad communication between two professionals who stake their careers on communicating well can be the downfall of any writer/editor relationship. In other words, if an editor sends you a contract and you sign it, and then you later keep requesting extra work (developmental help, ghostwriting, book consulting, etc.) without offering to pay them for their time, you may be taking advantage of their talents. It’s a dangerous game to play.

Some editors may help where they can. From those I know, they ultimately want to help their clients succeed, even if it means offering some of their time and hard-won knowledge for free. But experienced editors and freelancers understand “scope creep,” where one “innocent” question leads to another.

Often, authors aren’t aware of what they’re doing, especially if they’re first-time self-publishers. They want their book to do well and know that their editor has trod the path they want to follow. Consequently, they’ll ask questions without understanding how those questions lead to more questions, or more work, all of which cut into an editor’s billable time.

To prevent scope creep, ensure that what you need is clearly defined in your contract. If you have questions about what, precisely, an editor is offering you, ask them about it. Be sure that the both of you are on the same page before work commences. Yes, changes may occur as the work progresses, but so long as open communication happens, both parties will know what to expect from the other. That’s a great foundation for a strong and lasting author/editor relationship.

Disregard your editor’s suggestions.

Imagine yourself as the editor of a friend’s book. After spending 20 hours of work on it, your friend publishes it and sends you a copy. On page two, you notice a typo you were sure you fixed, so you consult the edited manuscript. Sure enough, the typo was fixed. As you keep reading, you find more mistakes you corrected. You flip to the title page and read, “Edited by You.” Would you be upset then?

You can be sure that if you choose to disregard a majority of your editor’s suggestions and still put their name on the finished product, that editor may find a number of reasons to not take on your next project. Plus, why would you pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for an edit and not take their advice? If you ever have a question about why an editor did something to your manuscript, ask them about it.

Yes, you will have disagreements with your editor about their choices, but if they’re worth their salt, they’ll be able to tell you precisely why they made a particular edit. Again, open communication—even, and especially, over disagreements—is key.

Take it personally.

In Don’t Fear the Reaper: Why Every Author Needs an Editor, I wrote an entire chapter on validation. Maybe my fear is unfounded, but I believe some writers fear editing because they don’t want to see their hard work returned to them dripping in red. They may take such edits quite personally and believe one of two extremes:

  • I’m a terrible writer and should quit immediately.
  • I’m an amazing writer, and this editor doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Immature writers may simply be ignorant of style guides and the basics of storytelling, or they may just not be well-read. Consequently, such writers may be more prone to sending half-baked books that result in a large number of edits, causing the writer to take such edits as a sign they should quit writing altogether. This shouldn’t be the case, as the only way for an immature writer to mature is to endure the welts that all successful writers later wear with pride.

On the other end of the spectrum, arrogant writers may think so highly of themselves or their craft that they consider themselves above editing. If they do, in fact, seek an editor’s help, they may push back against every suggestion, arguing for fewer changes because “the work is already as good as it’s going to get.” This is literary hubris to the highest degree.

All writers should learn what Steinbeck said in Journal of a Novel:

“The book is a thing in itself, and it is not me. There is no ego in it. I am glad that you sense that while I am in it and of it, I am not the book. It is much more than I am.”

So let me go back to the beginning.

Whether I’m talking to a self-conscious writer or a self-confident writer, my refrain is the same: everyone needs an editor. And when you find that editor that makes your book sing where before it only warbled, do everything you can to hold onto them for life.

About the Author

Blake Atwood headshotBlake Atwood is the author of Don’t Fear the Reaper: Why Every Author Needs an Editor and a few other books. He’s a full-time author, editor, and ghostwriter with EditFor.me. Connect with him on Twitter @batwood.


Image courtesy of khunaspix at FreeDigitalPhotos.net. Amazon links contain my affiliate code.



  1. […] After the writing comes the revising. Maggie Biroscak shares 11 proofreading tips to help you write with confidence, K.M. Weiland explains the lazy author’s way to identify and overcome weaknesses, and Blake Atwood tells us what not to do when working with an editor. […]

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