The relationship between writer and editor is intimate. I’ve been on both sides, and in either role there are risks. For a writer, to ask for a critique of your work is to make yourself vulnerable—you are inviting someone to see what’s in your heart. However, when your work is published, you’ll be sharing your writing with a broader and often less gentle audience, so isn’t it better to first bare your soul to an ally who helps you present your strongest work?
As an editor, you don’t want your feedback to discourage an author, but you must be truthful about a story’s flaws. Thus, the best editors are honest. An editor’s job is to analyze your work thoroughly and to provide candid feedback about revisions. As an editor, I would never want to fail to address an issue that later invites negative feedback from a reviewer. Your editor should be committed to making your writing as strong as it can be.
The best editors see your book as a whole. It’s not enough to simply proofread to correct grammar. There are different types of editing, and an editor may check for clarity, consistency, and address point of view issues, among other things. An editor may also help an author develop characters or plot. Because readers engage with books emotionally, it’s critical that an editor understands your style and goals for your book. You want characters people care about, and your editor can help you polish your story so characters are relatable.
A great editor is encouraging. Not only will the best editors tell you what needs to be revised, they’ll let you know what you are doing well. I have a wonderful editor who notes when my writing has intrigued her or made her laugh. This does more than lift my spirits—it gives me valuable feedback about when I’m engaging a reader and how I can replicate that throughout a manuscript.
A skilled writer also communicates well and welcomes feedback. An author who is truly interested in developing writing skills will be open to hearing where the story falls short, filling in plot holes and giving characters more detail. The best writers do kill their darlings.
Nevertheless, a great author knows what the goal of a story is, and makes deliberate choices about writing. Sometimes it’s not a matter of cutting words, but clarifying them. It’s important that a writer be able to communicate this to the editor in a non-defensive way (this is not easy, I know). If an editor suggests you change something critical to your story, talk about it. Explain why that sentence or paragraph is important and discuss how it could be revised to make it work. Your editor may need more information to be able to assist you.
Like a great editor, writers should provide positive reinforcement. The best editors want feedback about what has gone well in the editing process (and what could have been better), and like anyone, they enjoy being appreciated. Courtesy and gratitude from an author go a long way toward building a successful relationship with an editor. Your editor is invested in your writing. If they like working with you, they will become a champion for your book, passionately sharing about your work with their contacts. You can’t put a price on that kind of promotion.
Are you an author who has worked with an editor? Are you an editor? What advice do you have for a successful editing relationship?