13 Ways to Have a Healthy Relationship with Your Editor

While working as a freelance editor as well as working with editors for my own writing, I’ve picked up a few tips on how to develop and maintain a healthy editorial relationship. As a writer, an editor can be your work’s best friend. A good editor will tell you things you need to hear about your work (even if it can be painful to hear) and help (and inspire!) you to dig in and make your work the absolute best that it can be. While an editor’s job is not to bolster your self-esteem and confidence in your writing abilities, a good editor will make you feel as though you truly can get the job done and come up with something to be proud of. And not the opposite. If they make you feel like crap–find a new editor. Plain and simple.

Here are the things I’ve discovered are the key to a good relationship with an editor–and if you are not at the stage where you are working with an editor, you may find these tips translate well into how to develop a healthy writing critique partner relationship.

Take away: A good editor should be your work’s BFF, not yours. (Tweet it.)

The Fall: Tales From the Apocalypse

A little something I copy edited. And no, my name is not secretly Matt Sinclair–he was the ‘story choosing’ editor.
Another tip: Make sure you know what kind of editor you are hiring as there are many different kinds!
Get yours by clicking on the cover.

How to Have a Good Relationship With Your Writing Editor

AKA How to Have a Good Relationship With Your Writing Critique Partners

1. Communicate

This is probably the most important thing. Without communication what do you have? Misunderstandings, hurt feelings, etc. Don’t just zip your lips and shut down. If there is a misunderstanding or the editor hasn’t caught your ‘vision,’ talk to them. In person, over the phone, Skype, email, whatever. If they know where you are coming from things can’t help but improve.

2. Follow the instructions or process

By not following editorial guidelines or formatting guidelines you waste other people’s time. It’s that simple. Processes are in place for a reason. Not following instructions reflects poorly on you. If editors have a choice on who to go with next time, they are going to go with easy. And ‘easy’ follows instructions.

If the editor wants to get your story done with only one edit back to you, follow the process. Don’t expect to be feeding that piece back to them time and again. It’s your job to go over it after you make a change to make sure things still flow and that you haven’t messed something else up. If you make other changes in your story–let the editor know as they will need to go over that part again.

3. Don’t be afraid to ask

If you have a question, ask. It’s that simple. You may worry that you will be wasting everyone’s time or that in time they will answer this question. Sometimes asking a question now saves everyone time and sets everyone on the right course early in the game. This is a two-way relationship. An equal partnership where you are working together to create the best possible product.

4. Be professional

Don’t spout off. Editors (and critique partners) may check your Twitter feed or Google you to find out who you are as away to help them shape their communications with you. If they find you spouting off… well, I’m sure you can do the math on that one. Remember: The Internet is forever. Spout off to your spouse or write in a paper journal if you have to. Just never, ever do it in public.

5. Be timely

In other words, meet deadlines. Do what you say you will and when you say you will. People adjust their schedules around you.

6. Don’t be overly apologetic

You are a professional. Excuses are not usually needed nor expected. Apologize if you screw up, find a way to try and make it better if need be, and move on.

7. Say thank you

Editing is damn hard work (as is critiquing) and editors are not evil (at least not most of them). It takes hours to do a good job making sure a story jumps out when it should, luring a writer’s voice to shine like we know it truly can, to make sure every word is the best word for the job, and that punctuation is correct.

8. Speak up

If an editor is asking for a change that creates an error, or goes against your voice, etc., don’t be afraid to speak up. It is your work and editors do not always know. And yes, sometimes it can be scary speaking up, but if you do so in a concise, polite, and reasonable way, chances are you are not only going to be heard, but respected as well. And it is okay to say, “My gut is telling me to…”

9. Send your best work

Always send editors your best. (Same goes for critique partners.) The attitude ‘that’s what editors are for’ will simply make the editor think your lack talent and professionalism and burn them out. Yes, if there is something you aren’t sure about, mention it to your editor, but if it is something you can fix–even if it takes a bit of effort–you should do so. Take your work as far as you possibly can and then give it to your editor. They will be able to make it that much better because they have something that much better to work with. Think of them as car detailers. They can make that car sparkle but if you bring them a Chevy Nova you aren’t going to come home with a Porsche. You are going to come home with a polished up Chevy Nova.

10. Friendly

Be friendly. Approachable. Professional. (Not needy.) Don’t expect the editor to be your new BFF (Best Friend Forever) as your relationship is professional. This is real life. Real business. Yes, ‘Did you have a good weekend’ chit-chat is okay, but don’t expect to wax on about your cat’s latest medical issue. Or vice versa. Their lack of BFFness does NOT indicate they feel ‘less’ about you. If you like their work that’s what matters.

11. Stay in touch

If you receive a file, pop off a quick email saying it has arrived! Don’t sit for a month wondering why you haven’t heard back. Files get eaten by the email machine alllll the time. Don’t assume they know it arrived.

12. Be open to change and challenges

Editors aren’t trying to make you different (okay, sometimes we are), but stay open to suggestions. Don’t let yourself shut down and blurt out an automatic “No.” Be open to the discussion as the strongest, and best work is what they have in mind. ‘The best work possible’ should be a shared vision even if you having differing views on how to get there. Hear them out. A good editor should challenge you and help you grow, not just fix typos.

13. Hone your craft

Working with an editor is a wonderful privilege. In fact, any time you work with someone who can help you grow is something that needs not to be taken for granted. Working with an editor is a chance to see your work through someone else’s eyes and hone your craft. Keep in mind that while all suggestions may not be you, sometimes editors may have a certain tone, voice, and themes they have to meet. Be open to trying out new things like simplifying your phrases. And for heaven’s sake, show pride in your work, be a pro and use spellcheck and proper punctuation. I’m serious!

Those are the things I’ve learned sitting on both sides of the editorial desk. (Okay, okay. It’s actually my couch.) How about you? Do you have any editing or critique partner relationship tips to share?

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8 comments on “13 Ways to Have a Healthy Relationship with Your Editor
  1. [Editors] “…can make that car sparkle but if you bring them a Chevy Nova you aren’t going to come home with a Porsche. You are going to come home with a polished up Chevy Nova.”

    This is so true!!!! Same principle as garbage in, garbage out!

  2. Jemi Fraser says:

    Love this Jean! I’m looking forward to my 1st editorial experience & I’ll keep these tips in mind! 🙂

  3. Jean I agree with all you’ve said having worked with many editors over my magazine writing career and I would add one suggestion. Do let the small stuff get to you. Some changes that are requested aren’t a big deal and I would suggest letting them go. Save your stands for the big stuff that really matters. Kind of like raising kids. Save no for the big stuff not all the little things.

  4. Eline says:

    May I just add that it is better not to headbutt with your editor regarding “power”.

    I am an editor myself, a new one in the office actually. And it is so tiring when your teammates (who happen to be older than you) keep on reminding you that your writers are of a certain career or have acquired various academic degrees throughout their lifetime (say they are teachers, with MAs, PhDs etc. etc.) and you must address them in a certain way (read: in a superior way) because they are Masters and Doctoral holders and you are JUST an editor.

    • jeanoram says:

      Yes, please do add that!

      And my goodness… ‘just an editor?’ Wow. Just because someone has a degree it doesn’t mean they are all that. It sounds like you are in a tough spot.

      The world needs more editors!!

      • Eline says:

        I appreciate that there is someone who is with me on this.

        I am not sure if that superiority complex (if that is what and how you term it) is cultural but it is apparent here in my country. As if only the licensed, “under oath” and big buck earners are the ones to be well-respected and looked up to by the society. While those who graduated, earned a degree and pursued a career in some unknown/not so in-demand industry are perceived as “average” (employees and earners for that matter); thus, the word “just” always precede their job title once the power tripping occurs.

        Yeah I am in a tight spot actually. I feel like a lamb roaming around a field of buffalos. I have a different mind setting in some matters and some people just can’t take it, not because it is wrong but because it defies the path of mentality of the majority.

        If only I can say more. But you know how things go here in the world wide web, you may get busted for ranting about such issue. LOL.

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