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 go into 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 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 expect your book to be 95 percent error-free after BOTH an editor and a proofreader have gone over it.

You can’t expect perfection. Editors are human, and they miss things. If the editor made a thousand revisions, fifty remaining errors would be acceptable. (This is discussing actual errors, not stylistic choices or big-picture developmental issues.)  Again this is after both an editor and a proofreader, not just the editor.

Of course, editors aim for more than 95 percent error-free. 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.

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

If you request copyediting only but the editor sees 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. Trust me, the editor isn’t doing this to make more money.

If you contracted and paid for one round of developmental/substantive editing, but after that round your book still has some 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.

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

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 edit for more than four or five hours in a day or else the quality of their editing 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.

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.

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 in order to be publication ready.

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. Your editor is not your enemy; they are making your book better.

It can seem like your editor is 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.

However, the editor made the 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 you need to make a decision knowing you can trust that your editor is trying to make your manuscript better.

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.

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

Your editor will leave comments with suggestions of things for you to fix or improve. 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.

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 process.

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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