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Communication tips for a more effective author-editor relationship

(Aka editors are human, too!)


A book editor on professional online interactions


In today's digital age, our interactions increasingly happen behind screens. Whether it's chatting with friends, attending virtual meetings, or working with professionals, the internet connects us in creative ways more than any other time in modern history. 


However, it's essential to remember that behind every email, comment, or feedback note from an editor, there's a real person. Yes, book editors are real people, real human beings, on the other side of the computer screen!


Just as you would strive to be professional and courteous when interacting face-to-face with a professional (no matter the industry), it's important to extend the same courtesy in your online communications. Here are a few tips to ensure a smooth and productive relationship with your book editor in the virtual world right from the start.


(And trust me, I’m giving myself these tips as well! Authors are people, too, and editors should remember that.)


Start with respect and courtesy


Freelance editors are professionals with training and credentials who have dedicated their careers to helping authors refine their books. Treat them with the same respect you would offer any other professional. Assuming the editor is also respectful and courteous, there’s no reason to be aggressive or confrontational, even if you disagree with their suggestions, don’t like a business policy, or find that you’re not a good fit for the editor’s style, pricing, or service offerings. Keeping conversations polite and constructive can help smooth any negative situations that may arise.


When you reach out to an editor for the first time, consider what you might say if you were meeting in person. I am often sent initial inquiries outside of my regular inbox (via social media, for instance) that are a single question: What are your fees? How much do your services cost? Do you do x type of editing? I’ll be honest. I am tempted not to respond to these types of messages because from the get-go I can tell that no attempt has been made to get to know me. Similarly, the connection or follow or friend request that moves from interested party to “please buy my book” is not going to be a fruitful conversation either. Usually, I drop my website link and request that if they are interested, they should seek me out via my contact page so I can get to know them and their project better.


Communicate clearly and promptly


Effective communication is key to a successful editing process because at the heart of good editing is collaboration. When responding to an editor's feedback or queries, be clear and concise in your responses. If you have questions or concerns, don't hesitate to ask for clarification. Advocate for yourself, by all means, if an editor is overstepping the boundaries described in their service (rewriting more than they should, for instance) or if they are being bullying or aggressive in their own communication. That’s never okay. 


Most important, when you’re looking for an editor to help with your book, make a list of criteria, but respect that editors have limited time and likely won’t jump through hoops to work with you.. Start with knowing or having some understanding of what type of editing your book needs, then consider whether you’d like your editor to have genre expertise. As you get to know an editor you may potentially work with, ask questions along the way, especially if you’re unsure about parts of their process or what you can expect as far as the promised deliverables. 


And if you find that you’re not a good fit for an editor, or another opportunity comes along, don’t be afraid to simply and politely let the editor know that you’ve decided to go a different direction with your book or that you’ve found an editor who best fits your needs. No need for a long explanation. I am always appreciative of authors who let me know I no longer need to follow-up with them!


Be open to feedback


This is a big one. Receiving feedback on your manuscript can be daunting, but it's an essential part of the writing and editing process. Approach feedback with an open mind, and remember that the editor's goal is to help you improve your work. Instead of taking feedback personally, use it as an opportunity to learn and grow as a writer. Again, this is not license for editors to tear apart your work, insult you, or use other bullying tactics. But the ability to receive feedback that is given with honesty and kindness is a vital part of creating a stronger book. I have found that when client’s are open to feedback, then I am more at ease and able to make bolder revision suggestions.


In fact, it happened once that I made a suggestion that was actually completely incorrect. When the client pointed it out, I couldn’t believe it! I knew I was in the wrong, and I couldn’t believe I’d made such a mistake. It must have been temporary madness, I thought. The client was incredibly kind and willing to give me the benefit of the doubt because of the rapport we had developed. The client knew my skills, trusted me, and also knew that I am a human being who makes mistakes. We were able to move forward with minimal fuss because the client was open with me (able to call out my mistake) and I was open to admitting I’d been wrong.


Set expectations early


Before diving into editing, there will be time to discuss your expectations and deadlines with your editor. Establishing clear guidelines from the outset will help both parties stay on the same page and avoid any misunderstandings later on. If you have specific concerns or requirements, don't hesitate to communicate them upfront. Most important: sign a contract or service agreement that sets out these exact expectations in writing. Going to court over a breach of your contract isn’t likely to happen when it involves a freelance editor, but having a written agreement will be helpful should an editor attempt to take advantage (again, not likely—good editors have reputations to uphold!).


If there’s a hiccup in the process, keep your cool, reach out to the editor with your concerns, and reference the agreement if needed. Hopefully, it won’t escalate too much further than that, and you’ll be back to smooth sailing. 


Express appreciation


Don’t forget to express your gratitude for your editor's hard work and expertise. A simple thank-you can go a long way in building a positive rapport and fostering a long-lasting, collaborative relationship. Remember, editing is a team effort, and acknowledging your editor's contributions can make the process more enjoyable for everyone involved. This might be as simple as a kind word or compliment over email, a mention on the acknowledgments page of your book, a referral to other authors you know, a glowing testimonial, or sending your editor book mail when your book is published (I personally love this!). 


In conclusion


Interacting with a book editor online doesn't have to be daunting or impersonal. We’re human just like you! By treating your editor with respect, communicating effectively, and maintaining a positive attitude, you can build a productive and collaborative relationship that will benefit your writing journey. So the next time you sit down to email your editor or discuss revisions, remember: behind that computer screen is a real person who shares your passion for storytelling. Together, you can make the editing journey a positive and rewarding experience for both editor and author!

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3 Comments


Unknown member
Apr 30

This is marvelous advice. I appreciate the honesty when I asked about different kinds of editors, and I realized there are editors for just about every genre. Sarah pointed me in the right direction.

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Unknown member
Apr 28

Thanks for pulling this together. As a freelance editor, I want to send a copy to all my authors -- and later to potential clients who query me. It's a useful checklist, and reflects a lot of experience added to some clear thinking

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Unknown member
Apr 26

Right on track with Communication Tips / Editors Are Human, Sarah. Thanks for your solid guidance.

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