What to Expect From Your Book Editor

If you’re publishing your first book, you may be curious about what will happen when your book is given to an editor. You know they’re going to fix punctuation and grammar. But you might be wondering what else an editor is for, or if there’s anything else that you might need to know. Look no further—I’m going to share with you both what an editor does, and a few things to keep in mind while working with one.

An editor can do as much or as little as you’d like them to—short of writing a book on your behalf, of course (that would be a ghostwriter). But an editor is an invaluable resource to help you improve your book and your writing. An editor, aside from checking spelling and grammar, can help you to improve many aspects of your book. Organization and diction are two basic examples of this. If you’re worried about copyright issues, you can ask an editor to assist you in making your citations, or even a full bibliography. If you need honest feedback, you can request a manuscript review and get a professional opinion about your work. All these things and more are services that an editor can provide.

So now that you know a bit more about what an editor can do for you, what kinds of things should you keep in mind? First of all, the goal of the editor is to improve your book, and they’re going to be thorough—that’s their job, after all. If it’s the first time that you’ve worked with an editor, you might be shocked at the number of corrections. In fact, your book might be all but covered in red ink. If this happens, don’t worry! It isn’t uncommon to have a large number of corrections, especially given that you may be accustomed to writing in a style that differs from the publisher’s (for example, MLA or AP vs. Chicago). Take a deep breath, relax, and keep in mind that your editor is doing this to help improve your book, or if nothing else, to make it consistent with the other works they have published.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you should tell your editor as much as possible before the editorial process begins; especially if there’s something that you want extra attention given to. This would include, for instance, if you are worried about your comma usage and want them to be extra careful. Or, if you intentionally use words or phrases incorrectly at times, you’ll want to make sure these don’t get “corrected.” Similarly, if sections in your book seem out of order, an editor may be inclined to want to “fix” it. They won’t do so without permission, but they’ll certainly bring it up! If you have exceptions like these, let your editor know. Just remember, by default, editors are going to try to “fix” anything that could be perceived as an error by the reader. So be sure that you know what you want in your book and how you want it. The more the editor knows about what you want, the less wasted time you will have in discussions and meetings that could have been avoided. This could also reduce your overall editorial fees!

While you might want to have a few exceptions, however, you need to keep in mind that your editor isn’t a “yes man.” Their job is to make the books that come to them free of errors and conform to industry standards. The editor may “push back” against your requests if they feel too many exceptions are being made, possibly leading to negative effects (such as readers thinking the book is unedited, sloppy, or unorganized).

If you’re under a time constraint, get back to your editor in a timely manner. Editors usually have a large workload, especially around the holidays (everyone wants their book ready for Christmas, after all). And usually, at least one question will come up while editing; an editor may have questions for you about a sentence’s intended meaning, for instance. Or, after the work has been done, you may be asked to “approve” the text. Be sure that you get back to your editor as soon as possible! Some people can delay their own projects by weeks, months, or even longer by simply not answering a question. If you feel that your editor is “taking too long” to finish your project, keep in mind that editorial is a detail-oriented process that shouldn’t be rushed.

While this isn’t an exhaustive list, these are some of the more important details to keep in mind when working with an editor. Knowing what to expect can help you get the most out of your time in editorial, keep your costs down, and ensure a pleasant experience for both parties.