Here’s another reader question, sent in when I asked for questions recently: “When writing a book, how can the author make it easier on the editor and publisher?” This question assumes the author is not self-publishing, but instead going through a traditional publisher or small press.
Even if you are self-publishing (and most of you are), it’s a good question, because you will need an editor. Because I don’t have experience in the role of publisher, I’m going to address this from the perspective of a freelance editor who does line editing.
Why help your editor?
Your editor is on your side. Your editor is trying to help you. If you help your editor, you help yourself.
One way to help your editor is to say this to yourself, often. In some stages of the process, you may have to chant it repeatedly like a mantra. Light some incense, breathe slowly in and out and say, “My editor is on my side. My editor is trying to help me. My editor IS helping me.”
So having the right attitude is one way to help your editor. Another is checking your manuscript for mistakes you know you’re prone to making. If you know that you often use “your” when you should use “you’re,” then check your manuscript for that mistake. Use the “find” feature and look at every instance of the word “your” in the entire book. “Ugh,” you say, “that will take time!” Yes, a bit. It will also save you some money, especially if you’re paying your editor by the hour instead of by the project or page (not something I recommend, by the way, but many do it), and if your editor doesn’t have to find and fix all of those errors, your book could be finished faster.
A style sheet can help your editor
If you don’t have a style sheet before you send your book to be edited, please make one immediately. It might be most efficient to work with your editor to create one. A style sheet will help your editor to know how you want certain things handled. One client of mine wrote a book that had particular words capitalized—words that are not ordinarily capitalized unless at the beginning of a sentence. It was confusing—but only until I asked for a style sheet for that book. In the field that book pertains to, those words are always capitalized, like terms. Oh, okay, easy enough. On to the next thing . . . . Editors know a lot, but they don’t know everything! You’re the expert on your subject matter, and a style sheet can help you help your editor by containing pertinent information like that.
Talk, and listen
The next way you can help your editor should be seared into your brain: communicate. A style sheet is one way to communicate, yes, but emails back and forth throughout the process, or, if necessary or preferred, phone calls or meetings are ways to communicate, too, though writers and editors do tend to like written words more than spoken words. A quick phone call can iron out things much faster than a tennis-match email train can. Keeping a level head and taking along a short list of things you want to discuss can help.
If you want to help your editor help you, then listen to what your ed says. I’m not saying you have to do what your editor says. This is not a high-school English class, where the teacher gets to dictate what you do. You’re not going to receive a failing grade if you don’t follow your editor’s advice.
The key word in the previous sentence is “advice.” If you’re self-publishing, that’s what it is. If you’re going with a traditional publisher or a small press, you’re screwed on that one, because in that case the editor works for the publisher (not you), and what that editor says is law—although you might get a nice one who will work with you on some things.
The editor’s role
If you’re self-publishing, then your freelance editor is not a dictator. She is a guide. The final decisions are yours. You might look like a total idiot if you don’t do something she says to do, but it’s your book and it’s your choice, and a good editor will tell you that, and mean it. Any editor who doesn’t realize that your book is your book and that you are the one who gets the final say is one you should run from, quickly.
How does taking her advice help your editor? Her reputation is on the line with your book, too, and she probably knows more than you do on that particular topic, so taking her advice is probably good for you both. You hired an editor because editors know some things you don’t, so take advantage of that fact.
I’ll just give you one more to wrap up: Referrals. Help your editor by sending other writers her way. Your ed can tell you who would make a good client, so ask, then every time you come across one, tell that person about your editor and encourage that person to get in touch with your editor. You don’t want to send crummy prospects, because that won’t help your editor—it will bog her down in useless leads and leave little time for productive things, like polishing your next manuscript.
To recap, you can help your editor by having a good attitude, fixing the mistakes you are aware of, communicating, taking her advice, and giving her referrals.