Bridging the Author-Editor Gap

Have an open mind. This means that if an editor tells you that your story would benefit from a different point of view, or that the three paragraphs you wrote to describe the meal your protagonist had for breakfast should be deleted, consider that you might be too close to the work to see it at its potential best. The choice is always yours to choose or reject an edit, but if you’ve hired a good editor, she knows what works and what doesn’t.

I_love_my_editorDid you know that the comma is one of the most controversial punctuation marks? This means that even the geekiest grammar Nazis at the Chicago Manual of Style will occasionally disagree on this cute little curlicue. What this means for the author is that you might wonder why we inserted a comma in one place but not another. Most book editors use the rules set forth in the Chicago Manual of Style. We use this in conjunction with Merriam-Webster. For issues covered in neither, we make our own editorial decision. There’s a reason the comma warrants an enormous number of pages in style guides. So, trust that your editor knows what he’s doing. Although hard and fast rules certainly apply to most areas of grammar, gray areas still abound. Chicago often defers to what they call “editorial judgment.”

If you hire an editor to comment on character, plot, etc., and to copy edit, and to proofread, understand that no matter how meticulous the editor is, you will find a mistake here and there. With traditional publishing houses, your work goes to an editor first, then a copy editor, and then at least one proofreader. Independent editors often do the job of all these people, unless you have the resources to hire separate individuals. I perform all of these functions on every manuscript, and I use the finest toothcomb to scan for errors before returning it to the author, but human error says that I will not have caught everything.

The best editors (read: egos in check) are interested in nothing more than making your work the best it can be. I can sleep at night (cuddled up to Sienna, my pug mix) knowing that I’ve cut no corners in helping my author achieve the highest standards.

Now…what do you wish your editor would know? We’re listening.


  1. Roberta says

    That reminds me of when I was in grad school. I had written a paper about students in special education who also received ESL services. The professor gave it back to me with a bunch of edits, but suggested I submit it for publication in a few professional journals she had recommended. I was so incensed by her edits that I threw it out! Of course I thought every word of it was just PERFECT! haha

  2. Alicia says

    I think when it comes to different cultural references, the author often knows more than the editor. Doncha think, chica?

  3. jill koenigsdorf says

    Well said, Val. Honest assessment of how much you as an editor really care about making the work shine! Commas ARE important, as in the classic “Eats shoots and leaves,” vs. “Eats, shoots, and leaves!” Your commitment to your job really shows in this entry. Keep up the good work!

    • Sonja says

      So true about commas, Val! My fave is the one about the person giving an acceptance speech: “I’d like to thank my parents, Mother Teresa and God the father.” A classic one that needs a comma!

  4. Cissy says

    I wouldn’t mind edits on a comma, it’s when they completely dissect every word that it can get a bit annoying. However, overall I would say that at least with regards to book editing, (NOT articles!), the editor really helped the story develop into something much better than what it was originally. It was a painful struggle, but the hate definitely subsided…

    • says

      Cissy, unless the work is in extremely poor condition, the editor should not feel the need to dissect every word. Articles might appear more dissected because they’re so much shorter than books. Also, articles are likely going into a magazine or other publication that has a specific style and must be edited accordingly.

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