3 May 2018

Guest Post by Nikki Brice ~ I’d Like to Thank My Editor… Tips For a Happy Relationship


I can’t think of anything more daunting for a new writer than handing over their manuscript to an editor for the first time. A manuscript isn’t just a document containing your story. It’s a whole raft of other things: it represents months, possibly years, of hard work; it embodies your hopes and dreams; and it’s your shop window.

When your editor returns your manuscript, you want to feel that the whole experience was uplifting and positive, that the editor was a creative advisor, a supportive force, a realistic but constructive voice. In other words, someone you’d like to thank! New writers often worry that this won’t be the case, that an editor will be unappreciative, overbearing, inflexible and distant.


So what can a new writer do to give themselves the best chance of having a happy working relationship with their editor? Here are a few thoughts.


Don’t Look For the Best Editor in the World


For one thing, that editor doesn’t exist. For another, if there were one best editor, imagine how long you’d have to wait! Instead, focus on finding the right editor for you, the editor who’s the best fit for your project and what you want to achieve.


Explore an editor’s website, LinkedIn profile, Twitter feed and so on. By all means check out their qualifications, experience, and professional memberships. Those things are important. But don’t ignore your instincts. We all form an impression as we read. Does this sound like someone you’d like to work with? If you get a good feeling, that’s a great starting point.


When you first contact an editor, tell them something about your project. You’d be amazed how many emails from authors amount to little more than, ‘I’m looking for someone to edit my book. It’s 75,000 words.’ I love to hear the detail! And there’s an advantage for you too – the level of enthusiasm with which the editor responds will give you a valuable indication of whether this editor is the right one for you. You don’t want to work with someone who has no interest in your writing.


Be Sure You Know What You’re Asking For … And What You’ll Be Getting


The Terminology Trap


Editors tend to provide various levels of service including:


  • Big-picture advice: does my plot work, are my characters believable?
  • Sentence-level work on the nitty-gritty, ensuring clarity, consistency and polishing the prose.
  • A final check before publication or submission.

The names of these services vary from editor to editor and author to author. The big-picture advice is variably referred to as a critique, a developmental edit, a substantive edit or a structural edit! Not all of these edits involve working on the manuscript itself. Some involve the editor writing a separate report. So, when you ask for a level of service make sure you are very clear about what you want the editor to do. Explore the editor’s website. A good editor will outline the services they offer and you can check what terminology they are using. This will make it easier to discuss what you want to happen with your manuscript.

Providing a Manuscript Sample

Once you’ve got a reasonably clear idea of the level of service you’d like, contact your editor. A good editor will ask for a sample, or possibly your entire manuscript, before committing to providing a particular level of service and confirming a fee. Don’t be put off by this. It’s important that your editor assesses your manuscript and advises you whether your chosen level of service is the right one.

Asking For an Editorial Sample

Most editors are happy to provide a short sample to show you what approach they’d take to your work. Take them up on the offer! It will give you a great insight into what the editor will do with your manuscript and whether it matches your expectations. In the sample, the editor will demonstrate the sorts of changes they would make and why. If you don’t like what they’ve done with your work, this is not the editor for you. Better for both parties to find that out at this stage!

So now I just sit back and wait for a perfect manuscript to come back, right?

Wrong.

You won’t get a perfect manuscript. Why not? Here’s why not:

The manuscript isn’t finished yet. The editor will have raised queries, pointed out inconsistencies, and suggested changes, often with an alternative option supplied. You will have to go through your manuscript carefully, accept those changes you like and reject the ones you don’t. In other words, the manuscript will still need input from you.

Editors are all human. It’s incredibly rare that I read a book, any book, where I don’t spot something that’s slipped through. If you find an editor who tells you that your work will be perfect when they’ve finished with it, I think you should be wary…

Fiction editing is subjective. In fiction, the rules of editing are much more fluid than in non-fiction. For example, if a character has a strong dialect, requiring grammar that’s at odds with standard English, a fiction editor wouldn’t correct the grammar to accord with the rules of standard English. Even in non-fiction, some editorial choices are stylistic ones rather than right-or-wrong ones. This subjectivity means that the manuscript cannot be perfect in the eyes of all readers. In fiction, the inflexible application of rules can alter the music of your prose. It can affect tone and pace. It can flatten characters and description. A good fiction editor will use their judgement to help you make the most of your manuscript.

So, to pave the way for a happy author–editor relationship, research potential editors, trust your instincts, ask for that sample, and find an editor whose style and approach is right for your work. Best of luck!

Nikki Brice

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About the Author

Nikki Brice runs the editorial business Splendid Stories and helps authors of both fiction and non-fiction to make their story splendid. Over the last five years she has immersed herself in everything from erotica to theology and prides herself on offering authors a positive and supportive service, tempered with realism. Find out more about Nikki at www.splendidstories.co.uk and find her on Twitter @SplendidStories.

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Disclosure:  I chose Nikki Brice as the editor of my last book and was impressed by her attention to detail and helpful advice. I have already commissioned Nikki to edit my current work in progress and am happy to recommend her.  

Tony Riches

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