Working With an Editor: FAQs Answered by an Editor

I’ve asked my friend Tom Bentley, editor extraordinaire, to answer some FAQs about working with an editor.Tom Bentley, Editor

Should you ask for a sample edit?

Yes. A sample edit can demonstrate an editor’s skills, acuity and even editing style. I have sample edits of developmental editing, copy editing and proofing from both fiction and nonfiction projects that show my efforts. It’s also reasonable to ask an editor to edit a representative number of pages (perhaps 15-25) of your work to see how they deal with the specifics of your writing. Some editors will roll a fee into project charges for that if you take them on as your editor, some will do it for free.

Should you initially call your editor for a video or audio chat or just work with them through email?

I think it’s best to call and talk about the project. When having a conversation, questions and their answers arise that never would have occurred in email exchanges, even detailed ones. I learn more about the project and the client needs than I ever would have by looking at the writing and email information alone. That said, I have edited a couple of books solely through email exchanges, and they have gone well. Since I have a face made for radio, I prefer a call.

What tools do editors normally use (like Word’s Track Changes commands)?

I use Word’s revision and commenting tools as the mainstay of my editing work. I work on a Mac, and if the writer has a fairly new version of Word, Mac or PC, there are usually no compatibility problems. Sometimes I have to explain some nuances of the revision tools, but there are clear, explanatory videos online that I can point a client too.

Other than those, I have copies of the AP Style Guide, the Chicago Manual of Style, and a bunch of other style, editing and general writing books (like William Zinsser’s excellent “On Writing Well”) that are helpful. Software tools like Grammarly and the Hemingway Editor online can be useful.

What ground rules should a writer and editor have before the process begins?

I think both parties should have a good sense of milestones (when the first round of edits is due to the client, when the return round is due back) and fees, such as paying for a book edit in installment payments. Both parties should have some flexibility for life events, and for round-to-round changes in the original body of work that could affect deadlines.

In a developmental edit of a memoir I just finished, where I suggested the addition of a References and Addendum sections, I charged slightly more for the copyedit phase, because of the added material. Both parties should be communicative about any changes or unforeseen events that affect the work.

What are the types of editing an editor performs?

Developmental editing (which I also call content editing), is the big-picture stuff, incorporates the book’s structure and style, and can also be considered substantive editing. For me, content (developmental) editing is where chapters or chapter sections are shifted about or possibly eliminated, suggestions made (if needed) for the addition of substantial pieces of new material, checking if the information flow is logical, and for fiction, figuring out whether characters feel real and consistent (while still being able to evolve). But if you’re comfortable with those structural issues already being addressed in the book, an author can go straight to copyediting.

In a content/developmental edit, I usually examine the work for broad issues of continuity, theme, and voice—if the story’s arc actually does arc, in a compelling way. I look for whether the narrative starts/ends at the right place, has good transitions, that the story has a current that pulls the reader through—things like that.

Copyediting and line editing, in my view, are the same: for me, my copyediting normally includes deeper suggestions of editing changes—if needed—sometimes found in a content edit, and a sense of editorial assessment, also often found in a developmental/content edit. My copyediting approach might be thought of as a more complex, fine-toothed (and interpretive) way of proofreading, where I make simple in-text corrections for errors, but sometimes also suggest re-workings of sentences and entire paragraphs, in trying to mediate omissions in ideas or undeveloped ideas, or with fiction, difficulties with plot or character consistency and story arc.

This is where I both look at grammar and writing mechanics as well as at the flow of the work. I often suggest in detail where sentences/paragraphs could use some bolstering.

When I proofread, I’m attentive to common typos and spelling errors, but also attentive to something like “versus” being spelled one way in one chapter and seen as “vs” later. I have an eye for consistency, so, speaking of a novel, you wouldn’t have green-eyed characters later seen with blue (unless that was their nature).

Developmental editing, copyediting and proofreading are three separate processes, normally done in succession—you have to make the big changes of a developmental edit before copyediting can proceed, and you have to make the changes of the copyedit before a book can be proofread.

Otherwise you would be doing a bunch of extra work: for example, if you add/delete a bunch of material in the developmental edit, any copyediting you did for the deleted material would be wasted, and you wouldn’t have copyedited the new material, which would have to be edited again.

And proofreading must be the last stage, after you input all the material suggested in the copyedit, since the book would change again from the copyedit.

Should you allow an editor to rewrite sentences or even paragraphs or just make suggestions?

I have worked with authors that were fine with my rewriting of short elements of works. That power, of course, needs to be granted by the author ahead of time. When I first review a project with an author, I ask if they want me to do that (it’s tracked, of course, for their approval or rejection), or if they want me to elaborate in a comment about a suggested change. Repairing typos or egregious grammatical errors I do without hesitation.

Do editors charge by the page, by the word, by time, or by fixed fee?

All of those things. They might even try to charge you for the Doritos they eat at lunch, but don’t let them. I have charged by all of those methods, but for the last couple of years I’ve charged by the word. That is flexible: I’ve charged more per word for complex editing projects and less for where I recognize that the writer has a good handle on the base material, so in some regards it becomes a fixed fee.

What can an editor do for a writing work?

Make it sing like Paganini’s violin! On a more down-to-earth level, editors can offer to bring clarity to an author’s ideas in places where the words might obscure or divert the intended concept or in fiction, sense of drama. Editors can see where characters in fiction might behave in ways wholly out of their established patterns to a reader’s discomfort, where the author might think it’s a needed dramatic explosion. Editors can question areas or ideas that might need expansion. Or they can point out where the thoughts or scenes can be too heavy-handed or bloated with too much exposition.

And to be worth their salt, they must tidy up typos and knock-kneed grammar.

What if an editor suggests the deletion of entire chapters of a book, or for a novel, a character?

I have committed that terrible crime before. I worked with an author of a SciFi book that had a great beginning—that was three chapters in. The work’s first chapters had a great deal of dragging backstory that dulled the senses before the good stuff began. Of course they were troubled at the suggestion, but after reflecting and deciding to do the deletions and shifts, the author very much agreed that the work began with more power and appeal.

One of the great thing about how editors and writers work is that the writer can simply say “nope,” and be done with addressing that edit. It is the writer’s work, after all, and their judgment supersedes an editor’s. Editors should be fully explanatory about why they feel a major edit is justified, how it strengthens the work and energizes the reader, but if the author isn’t onboard, there’s no point in arguing.

Do you have any recourse if you think an editor’s work is terrible, and you’ve already paid them, or paid a portion of the fee?

Giving an author a sample edit and having a clear-cut sense between author and editor of project scope and detail is helpful to stave off those kinds of circumstances, but not always. I have never had an author ask for their money back, though I have had a couple of instances where they thought I could have done more. And I went back and re-did some work without charge. I did have an instance of working with a publisher for whom I edited a number of books say that my work on a specific book wasn’t up to my prior standards, and she did point out some places where I’d missed things I would normally fix.

This is not a great excuse, but that impelled me to do something I’d been meaning to do for a while: I bought glasses with a prescription strictly for reading on the computer; I’d been struggling with focus on the screen with my standard lenses for more than a year. My trouble with that book did force me to get the glasses, which have sharpened my screen vision considerably.

I believe an editor should either promise to resolve the inadequacies of the edit without charge, or refund a portion of the fee if the author has lost confidence in the edit.

Tom also recommends this source for self-editing.

I encourage you to check out Tom’s website, The Write Word. Thanks Tom for your answers and usual wit!

P.S. You might also enjoy this video where I and Anna Scheller discuss editing.

Blogging, Your Social Media Platforms, and Finding a Literary Agent for Your Nonfiction Book

Blogging, Your Social Media Platforms, and Finding a Literary AgentA freelance editor emailed me for advice on an author’s view of blogging, social media, and finding a literary agent for their nonfiction book.

“I’m writing to ask for a bit of advice from a social media expert’s point of view. I have a client who is getting ready to shop their nonfiction book. I’ve been encouraging this client for a year to build their social media platform, but my client was resistant to doing so until they finished writing the book and proposal.”

The author’s only social media presence is on LinkedIn, though they plan to start using Twitter – tweeting only twice a week! They do have a blog – only four posts in the past year with a plan to post a new blog weekly. The author is considering having their web designer create a section where guest bloggers could post – without first being vetted. The author thought having a guest blog post section should be mentioned in the book proposal.

Another blogger had approached this author offering to be a guest blogger. However, the editor noted that this blog looks like a small, personal blog—no mailing list, no way to contact the author.

“I don’t think this blogger is an asset to my author right now – they have two old blogs posted [both over a year old], that’s it. I’m inclined to tell my client not to do this, but mostly I don’t want any guest writer to hurt my client—would posting their guest blog potentially do that? I’ve encouraged my client to contact you for help, but so far, he’s been resistant to doing anything except wait. I’d appreciate your advice about this.”

This author’s approach to blogging, social media, and attracting a literary agent is not unique. Many authors I work with start out with these:

Common Misconceptions

  • “I don’t need a website, blog, or social media platforms until I finish my book.”
  • “Blogging once or twice a month is plenty. I don’t have much to blog about anyhow. I’m busy writing my book. I’ll have some guest bloggers for additional content.”
  • “I’ll start tweeting and get on other social media platforms once my book is published.”
  • “My book proposal is enough, and I don’t need a large following on social media to get a good literary agent.”

Literary Agents Expect Nonfiction Authors to Have in a Book Proposal:

  • An established website, including a blog (consistent blogging on a weekly basis for a year or more). Guest bloggers are tricky (more about that in a bit).
  • Established social media platforms with a decent number of followers on each platform. Learn more about that in this article posted by a literary agency: “7 Ways Agents Measure Social Media.”
  • A marketing plan in your book proposal that includes your social media marketing and book promotion plan.

Blogging has impact on your social media presence. However, blogging just once or twice a month won’t get you noticed. The more you can blog, the more impact you’ll have. And tweeting only twice a week won’t get you noticed at all. There are some good tips and interesting statistics on this found in the article “The 5 Commandments for a High Impact Social Media Presence.” If you can be a guest blogger on a well established blog, this can have a very good impact on your efforts.

However, having a guest blogger on your own blog can be tricky if not done right. There are some rules to follow. I do not recommend allowing guest bloggers to post on your site without vetting their posts first. Be sure anything they write is relevant to your topic. Your guest blogger should also have a well-established blog (over a year old) with at least weekly posts. It’s not beneficial to have a guest blogger who doesn’t already have a solid blog themselves and in fact, it can be harmful to allow a guest blogger on your site when their own site is outdated. A guest blogger should also be willing to share the blog with their own established social media networks. For more rules about guest blogging read the article “Don’t Accept Guest Posts Unless You Follow These 7 Rules.”

To learn more about what to include in your Social Media section in your book proposal, read editor Candace Johnson’s guest post on our site: “Your Social Media: What to Include in Your Book Proposal”.

My advice to the editor was to provide all this information, including the links to other sources, and encourage the author to start blogging regularly and establish solid social media platforms before reaching out to literary agents. I discouraged the idea of the guest blogger since they had only two blog posts of their own – both over a year old. If an author wants to get noticed, they need to ensure a solid social media presence.

If you’d like to ensure your social media presence is what a literary agent is looking for, contact me for my “Peace of Mind Social Media Audit & Consultation”.

You might benefit from Joel’s follow-up to this post.

Your Social Media: What to Include in Your Book Proposal

Today we’re delighted to share a guest post from editor, proofreader, writer, and writing coach Candace Johnson.

You have a unique idea for a nonfiction book, and you’re writing a compelling proposal that you’re certain will knock the socks off an agent and then a publisher. And then you get to the part where you illustrate author platform, including your social media footprint.

Your Platform as a Nonfiction Author

If you’re confused about what you should include in your proposal to illustrate your platform, you’re not alone.

… more … “Your Social Media: What to Include in Your Book Proposal”

Better Writing: When to Use “Like” vs. “Such As”

Barbara McNichols WordtrippersThis is part of a series by editor Barbara McNichol to provide tips that help you write like a pro.

Have you ever wondered about the distinction between “like” or “such as” in your writing. Here are two phrases to consider:

… more … “Better Writing: When to Use “Like” vs. “Such As””