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Tips for working with your editor

Tips for working with your editor

By Gabrielle Johnson |

Julia has nearly fifteen years of editorial experience across a range of narrative and illustrated publishing. Previously at HarperCollins, she worked on an eclectic collection of books by authors including, among others, Sir David Attenborough, Prof Brian Cox, Ben Fogle, Robert Macfarlane, Peter Godfrey-Smith and Alastair Humphreys, and she helped publish the prestigious New Naturalist Library, an influential natural history series with over 130 volumes published in over seventy years by William Collins.

Much as writing a book is – for the most part – initially a solitary process, publishing a book is a collaborative effort, so finding the right editor to work with is nearly as important as finishing your manuscript. Because no matter how brilliant the writing, every writer’s work benefits from an experienced editor’s input. So investing in that relationship will ultimately ensure you end up with the best possible version of your manuscript.

There are many different types of editors, each with their own distinct skill set and strengths:

  • A developmental editor will take a look at the overall structure of your book and help you to make improvements on a broader level. They will review the content and tone of your book and, if required, help you shape the narrative and ensure the chapters flow in a logical way. A fiction editor will look at plot and character development, while a non-fiction editor will (ideally) be an expert on the given topic and have a strong sense of your audience. Whether they specialise in fiction or non-fiction, a developmental editor will have a key understanding of the genre or subject area and be able to offer advice on commercial viability.
  • A copyeditor focuses on the writing itself, catching and correcting spelling, punctuation and grammatical mistakes, as well as keeping an eye out for consistency and sense before the manuscript is ready to be designed and typeset.
  • Don’t automatically assume that your editor will proofread your manuscript. This follows later – a proofreader’s job is to review the typeset page proofs before the final pages go to print. They will provide a fresh pair of eyes, checking for typographical errors, incorrect punctuation and poor formatting. The proofreader will pick up any mistakes that you or the copyeditor may have missed in the earlier stages.
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It’s important for you as a writer to develop a productive working relationship with your editor(s). Trust their expertise and try not to take any criticism personally. Their job isn’t to tell you what you (think you) want to hear, it is to provide objective, constructive feedback that will help you polish and improve your writing.

It is, however, just as important for editors to be sensitive in their approach to your work. Some editors can be overly intrusive or heavy-handed, but a qualified editor will know how to navigate the relationship with an author and will understand what level of involvement is expected of them.

Ultimately, you set your book up for success from the very beginning if you are willing to put in the effort: the more you engage with the editorial process, the better the outcome for your book.

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