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Can We Talk? Communication Between Writer and Editor




By Beth Bruno

You have shopped diligently for the perfect editor, examining samples from dozens of prospects to find a perfect match for you and your less-than-perfect manuscript. You’re ready to place it in her capable hands and let her work her magic. You know in your heart that it will be a bestseller when she finishes. But wait. Your editor could still fall short of your expectations without your help.

To do the best possible job for you as a writer, editors need to know what you want. If you assume your editor will figure that out from reading your work you are taking a chance that aspects of your work that need attention will be passed over. Does this mean you’ve hired a poor editor? Not necessarily. A book manuscript is exceptionally complex and needs the best efforts of both author and editor working together to improve it. No manuscript is perfect. One may need structural and developmental work while another needs copyediting and proofreading. Some manuscripts are disorganized and sketchy, so it would be premature to focus on spelling, grammar and punctuation before addressing the whole. Others are too long and need to be cut before zeroing in on the details. Still others need to be expanded in order to deepen the characters or make the plot more intricate and compelling. Pace, voice, and arc of the story often need adjustment.

Most editors offer standard services, such as structural and developmental feedback, a reading critique, or proofreading and copyediting. The standard offerings of an editor do not take into account the unique needs of each writer. Some want reassurance that their work is of high quality; others want every period and comma in the right; still others want their editor to bring a mediocre manuscript to bestseller quality by rewriting it. But most writers don’t tell their editors what their goals are because they assume that the editor is the expert and will do what is necessary to make their work sing.

Your editor cannot read your mind. Tell him or her what your goals are for your manuscript and the end product will be far better than either of you could imagine.

To insure that my clients and I are on the same page both before and during the editorial process, I ask questions about what the writer wants me to focus on, above and beyond what is listed in our editing contract. I’m interested in knowing:

What are your goals for your work? Do you plan to share it with a few friends, publish it independently, or seek representation by a literary agent?

What do you view as the strengths and weaknesses of your manuscript? What would you like me to focus on most?

Have you ever worked with an editor before? If so, how did it go? In what ways were you pleased with the results? What could your previous editor have done differently to improve the outcome?

These and other questions set the stage for a true collaboration between you and your editor and improve the likelihood that your manuscript will benefit significantly from that collaboration.

I routinely send the manuscripts I work on to the writer halfway through the editorial process and ask the writer to review it, asking him or her not to make any of the recommended changes quite yet, but rather to send any questions, comments, or suggestions he or she would like me to consider going forward. This frequently leads to slight alterations in course and significant improvements in the final results.

Many of my clients publish their works independently or with the help and support of commercial publishers. Through dynamic communication with their editor, the results speak eloquently for themselves and lead to outstanding reviews from readers. After all, the goal of publishing one’s work is to appeal to readers, to touch their hearts and minds with unique and inspiring characters, ideas, experiences and memorable stories.

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