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The Key to a Successful Edit

caroline-hileyby Caroline Hiley, Professional Book Editor, Copy Editor, Proofreader

The simplest path to a satisfying editing job is for the author and editor to TALK TO EACH OTHER.

That may seem obvious, but I’m constantly amazed by how often the two parties fail to communicate, and end up unhappy with the process and/or the result.

“Writer” and “editor” both are unregulated, ill-defined occupations, loaded with rules that can be broken for purpose and style. As well, anyone can be a writer or an editor, and all writers are free to write about anything. There can be no one-size-fits-all approach, and no universal fit between authors and editors.

But there’s a synergy between writing and editing that leads to a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts; and this seamless melding of both arts is what everyone seeks in a book project. So you need to narrow things down enough to establish writer-editor compatibility before starting.

That means verbalizing up front what you’re looking for and intend. Then you can tailor a contract that serves your mutual interests and leads to a successful editing experience.

In sum: Indie authors, when it’s time to hire an indie editor, tell the candidates exactly what you want and expect. You can open with the common terms, like copyediting, developmental editing, line editing, content editing, proofreading—but be sure to specify what you think those mean. Chances are high that the editor will have a different definition for each term, and you may end up working at cross purposes.

Indie editors, in turn, be sure you clearly define your services to prospective clients. Better yet, include a short sample edit to illustrate the service you propose. Chances are high that indie authors, especially newbies, will have a different understanding of each term you use, and you may end up working at cross purposes.

Once you’ve established a shared vocabulary, write it into your service agreement. That gives both parties a concrete description of what they’ve agreed to and offers another chance to adjust expectations before anyone commits. It also provides a reference point, should the project start shifting off course.

This process reflects the old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Translating it into modern publishing terms: “A successful editing job results from mutually understood expectations and tasks.”


Caroline Hiley works with manuscripts intended for literary agents and traditional publishers as well as independent authors.

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