Four Tips to Understanding Your Editor

Boy have I been busy editing books, reviewing books, and proofreading documents, and I have so much to share with you since I last wrote. My goal in this post is to pass along a few secrets about what your editor wants you to know, and to help you understand how an independent editor like me operates. These four tidbits can ensure an enjoyable relationship for the two of you.

1) Editors Want to Edit Finished Works

I know you’re excited to have finished the first three chapters of your book and you can’t wait to show it to an editor. But first you must finish the book. Most editors do not want to edit an unfinished manuscript. It is far better for you, and the story, to receive feedback on a completed work. The editor must be invested in the characters and the plot before commenting on the book as a whole. I take notes on the story as I go, and I often change my mind throughout. I recently edited a humorous novel about a woman who gets hired to write a blog on spirituality…a topic the character knows nothing about. Many of the relationships did not fully play out until the end, so I would never have been able to edit this before reading it in its entirety.

The exception to this is if you’re looking for a developmental editor, who will help you create the story as you go along. This entails a collaborative relationship between the author and editor and is more intensive (and usually more costly) than a substantive edit, which is performed on a finished manuscript.

2) Clarity is Key

It’s important to be clear about what type of editing you’ll be receiving, and to iron out the specifics before your editor begins. Most editors will spell out the terms of your project in a formal agreement. I use a very simple one, but it states the name of the project, the flat rate or per-word rate, the date it will be delivered, and specifications about how additional work will be handled. I used to differentiate between types of editing, but I have since changed that to a “whatever it needs” approach because I have found that this best serves the author. However, flexibility reigns, always.

I also always ask authors if there’s anything in particular they would like me to pay attention to while editing, such as the ending, the pace, a particular character’s motivation, structure, or any number of things. Give this some thought before hiring an editor.

3) You Want Me to What?

When your editor returns your finished project back to you, by all means ask questions if you have any. You might need more clarity on why he deleted a certain section or why he asked you to expand another section. The editor should provide you with detailed notes, but if anything is fuzzy, ask.

It is not the editor’s job, however, to go back over the entire manuscript after you have made all the changes. That is almost another full manuscript edit. Your editor would be starting from scratch again with all the new changes, and would have to charge accordingly. The exception to this is that you might want to hire a copyeditor and/or proofreader to check the sections you changed. I offer to do this at a reduced rate.

I also offer my authors a “manuscript evaluation” service, which is not an in-text edit, but an in-depth analysis of the work, including detailed commentary on plot, characterization, flow, etc. Some authors opt for this, then make the necessary changes, and then come back to me for a full technical edit at a much-reduced rate. This is an ideal situation because it gives the author an opportunity to fine-tune the work before doing the technical edit, which should come after the manuscript is mostly intact. It also allows me to read the manuscript again, which can give me deeper insight into the work. And it saves the author money.

4) Respect Your Editor’s Time

The author-editor relationship, like any other, is two-way, so both should respect the other’s time. I often handle editing projects strictly by e-mail, but if an author wants to speak on the phone, I am more than happy to do so. Some authors take this as carte blanche to treat me like a friend they’d have lunch with, where they discuss everything from politics to Lindsay Lohan’s latest imprisonment. I am very phone-friendly and love getting to know my authors a bit, but time is money, and I often need to cut conversations short when they stray too far beyond the scope of the project.

I don’t mind a question or two about the publishing field in general—should I self-publish, or try to get an agent?—but it’s not appropriate to engage your editor in prolonged discussions about the publishing industry. Keep the conversation (and the e-mails!) about the project at hand. And be mindful not to flood your editor’s inbox. She is being hired to edit your work, not provide you with a crash course in publishing.

Please let me know your thoughts on this. I love hearing from readers! Happy writing…

My next blog entry will help writers gain even more favor with their editor!


  1. Mark says

    Interesting to learn the difference between a ‘developmental edit’ and and a ‘substantive edit.’ Are there other levels?

    • Valerie Brooks says

      Mark, the levels of editing typically used for full-length book manuscripts are:

      Developmental – The earliest form of editing, often employed before the manuscript is complete. This editor helps the author “develop” the book. This is a collaboration effort from the start.

      Substantive/Line Editing – This is the crux of the editorial process once the manuscript is complete. It involves notes on how to improve plot, flow, character, setting, etc. It might include light rewriting. It addresses issues such as wordiness, redundancy, ambiguity, awkwardness, voice, tone, structure.

      Copyediting – This is a more technical edit, which focuses on grammar, punctuation, verb tense, clarity, consistency.

      Proofreader – The final set of eyes. This person looks for typos, spacing errors, punctuation errors missed by the copyeditor, formatting, and other “final touch” items.

  2. Norma Alonzo says

    It was interesting to note when an editor is needed and when a proof reader is sufficient.

    I also appreciate the “manuscript evaluation” process. This seems like a desirable way to proceed.

  3. Katherine Roe says

    So informative and nicely explained with lucidity . Thank you for clarifying the questions that one should not hesitate to ask and subjects that might not be worth the time and money of the author. That was illuminating and encouraging , as well.

  4. Cissy says

    Thanks for the info. Curious, do editors often work on multiple submissions at one time? In the beginning, when my editor and I were working on my book, she seemed to have so much time answering emails. But later on it tapered down, and it felt like she was busy with something else. Maybe I was emailing her too much…

    • Valerie Brooks says

      Cissy, every editor is different. I don’t like to work on more than one manuscript at a time. Once in a while, a day or two might overlap. Your editor might have had more than one project going (especially if she is the editor of a publication rather than an independent editor, as I am), or perhaps you did e-mail her too much. Try to compile all of your questions before contacting your editor, as to not overwhelm her with multiple e-mails.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.