10 Realistic Expectations for Working with an Editor

Turning your manuscript over to an editor can be nerve-wracking. You worked hard on your book, and no one likes criticism, but the author-editor relationship can be beautiful if you know what to expect.

A good editor should work with you, acting as a guide and a partner.

As long as you and your editor communicate clearly and you enter the relationship with realistic expectations, the editing process doesn’t have to be painful.

It can be hard, yes. Editing is hard!

It can be time-consuming, yes. Editing is time-consuming.

But it can also be beautiful!

 

1. You should expect to get a better book when the editor is finished, but what better looks like is different for each manuscript.

 

The purpose of an editor, as explained in my earlier blog, is to work with you to make your book the best it can be in the time allotted.

Notice the wording says the best it can be . . . not the absolute best.

Editors have to focus on the most pressing needs of a manuscript first, and if your manuscript contains several big-picture pressing issues, then some lesser big-picture issues and some sentence- and word-level issues may be left for you to fix, or for the same editor or different editor to fix in an additional round.

Your manuscript will be better than it was before that round of editing, but it may need more work after the initial agreed-upon work by the editor.

More work by you, more work by that editor, or more work for another editor.

 

2. You should not expect more than a 95 percent detection rate.

 

You can’t expect perfection. Editors are human, and they miss things.

If your raw manuscript contained a thousand errors, fifty remaining would meet that 95 percent detection rate. (This is discussing actual errors, not stylistic choices or big-picture developmental issues.)

While fifty remaining is a lot, the manuscript had a lot to begin with.

If your editor focused on big-picture issues as well, then their detection rate may be even less. Ninety-five percent is the best an editor can do, but circumstances may lower it.

Of course, editors aim for more than 95 percent. In fact, they aim for perfection, but they are human, and they will miss things, especially if they are doing multiple types of editing for you.

Factors that affect detection rate:

  • Original state of the manuscript
  • Required turnaround time
  • Amount of editing rounds contracted and paid for
  • Whether they are copyediting only or doing other types of editing as well

3. You should expect your editor to be honest about the state of your manuscript.

 

If you request copyediting only but the editor thinks your book needs developmental/substantive editing, then they should let you know.

Of course, it is up to you if you only want to proceed with copyediting, but an editor should be upfront with you about that decision.

After your editor has worked with you, they might suggest another round of editing.

If you contracted and paid for one round of developmental/substantive editing, but after that round your book still has some major big-picture issues, your editor will let you know.

It is up to you what you do with that information, but remember expectation #1? An editor can only make your book better in the time and budget given.

So they made the book the best it could be after only one round.  But just because it is better doesn’t mean it is ready for publication.

 

4. You should expect to pay for professional editing.

 

Editing isn’t cheap.

Specialized skill

Contrary to popular belief, editing is a specialized skill. One can’t just pass their English class and call themselves an editor, though some try.

In editing groups, I see posts like this often: “Hey, I am good at catching typos so I would like to edit on the side to make a little money. What should I do to get started?”

Um . . . first, editing is more than catching typos, and this is a career for many, so how about you try getting some actual training?

On four different articles listing how to make money extra income, the authors suggest if you have a “decent” grasp on spelling and punctuation, try proofreading or editing to make a little money.

These articles are insulting and spread the misconception that nearly anyone can edit and it shouldn’t cost that much.

Any editor worth their salt has taken some form of training. It. Is. A. Specialized. Skill.

You are paying for this specialized skill, just like you would pay a doctor, a lawyer, a plumber, a carpenter, etc. for their specialized skill.

Time it takes

Some imagine that an editor can go through a manuscript in a few days—after all, I can read a novel in a day or two. But reading and editing are different.

An editor reads through a manuscript multiple times and has to read slowly to catch things. Since editing requires a lot of brain power, most editors can’t spend more than four or five hours editing in a day or else the quality deteriorates.

They use the rest of their work day to read professional development books, take professional development courses, take care of the administration side of their business, and work on marketing.

So you may think their hourly rate is high, but they aren’t getting that per hour as they are putting forth hours outside of actual editing.

They have expenses

Along with the time it takes, a good editor will invest in professional development opportunities—whether that be books or courses—which costs money. If the editor is a freelancer, then they also have the costs of running a business.

See my blog on the cost of editing and how to work in your limited budget if you can’t afford it

 

5. You should expect your editor to communicate their process and methods.

 

Editors are unique individuals, and as such, they have different processes and methods.  You should expect your editor to communicate how they work so you are on the same page.

For example, I have two editorial approaches: a hands-on method and a coaching method.  For the hands-on method, I will make more substantive changes to the actual text, and for the coaching method, I will instead make comments discussing the issue and potential solutions.

Some authors aren’t as tied to their words, especially in nonfiction, so they prefer the hands-on method. Others would see that as overstepping. So it is important to communicate this upfront.

If your editor doesn’t have this on their website, ask them about it.

You can’t expect your editor to automatically work the way you want them to without communicating.

 

6. You should expect your editor to complete the amount of rounds you agreed to and paid for.

 

If you paid for two rounds—one substantive and one copyediting—then that is what you will get.

If your manuscript needed two substantive rounds, but you only paid for one, then you can’t expect the editor to perform another substantive edit just because your manuscript needs it.

You get what you paid for.

 

7. You should expect your editor to allow you to have final say.

 

Editors use track changes so you can accept or reject any change they make.

While it can seem like they are your enemy, especially when they ask you to make changes you don’t want to do and critique aspects of your manuscript you thought were brilliant, they are trying to make your book better.

The editor made each change for a reason, so you should consider why. Read the comment they left, and if there wasn’t a comment, ask why they made the change.

If you disagree, that’s OK, but at least consider it and find out the reason behind the change.

But in the end, it is your book.

 

8. You should expect your editor to edit based on best practices and not their personal style.

 

Editors consult style, usage, and grammar books when making editorial decisions.

So when an editor revises a sentence, you should expect they did so based on writing best practices. Perhaps the sentence contained awkward syntax or weak words.

You may think it’s just the editor’s personal opinion—after all, who deemed it awkward and weak—but best practices do exist and editors follow them.

So trust that your editor knows what they are doing (unless you didn’t hire a quality editor).

This trust doesn’t mean you can’t ask clarifying questions or that your opinion doesn’t matter; it just means that when making a decision to reject, you know your editor’s goal was to make it better.

Yes, editing can be subjective. Give any three editors the same manuscript and you will get three different edits. If a sentence is wordy or awkward, multiple different revisions can fix it.

However, you should expect an editor to never make a change unless they can back up their reasoning with more than just “Because I said so.” (My three-year-old just learned that phrase . . . moms don’t need a reason, but editors do and should have one)

 

9. You should expect editing to take time.

 

On average, editors can edit 3–10 pages in an hour, depending on the type of editing they are doing and the speed of that given editor.

Since editing is a cognitively demanding skill, most editors can’t spend more than five hours eyes-on-page editing in a day.

Thus, it isn’t reasonable to expect an editor to edit your book in just a few days or even a few weeks, depending on the length.

 

10. You should expect to do your own editing after you get it back from the editor.  

 

Your editor will leave comments with suggested fixes and improvements. How much depends on the state of the manuscript and the style of the editor.

I have some clients who wish for me to make as many actual changes as I can rather than making comments. So if a concept is not well explained, they prefer me to just add in the additional content needed to explain it. If I can’t, then I make a suggestion for them to do so.

But that is not necessarily the standard. It is your book, not the editor’s.

So they will give you suggestions of ways to improve the text, but leave the actual fixing to you.

Of course, they will fix actual errors (grammar and spelling) and some stylistic things like awkward sentences, but big-picture things may be left to you with an editor’s comments and suggestions.

Again this depends on how the editor works and goes back to expectation #5: communicating methods and processes.

But either way, even if the editor takes a more hands-on approach, you will have some work to do on your end.


The editor-author relationship can be beautiful; just make sure you are on the same page and you enter the relationship with clear expectations.

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