What to Expect from Your Editor

This post is intended for those who might be considering hiring a freelance editor or even commissioning one from an agency. I’ll explain the differences–including the pros and cons–of both avenues in a later post, but this advice can apply to either scenario (particularly in the case of freelancers).

It’s no secret that, in general, authors tend to be fiercely protective of their work. (Again, I plan on tackling this subject another day). This can make working with an editor seem a bit intimidating. You’re paying a lot of money for a snobby stranger to tell you all the ways you suck, right? Actually, editors are more invested in your success than you might think. Besides just general business reasons for wanting you to be successful–and therefore more likely to reuse or recommend their services to others–editors typically go into this field with a love of reading and the publishing industry. We’re passionate about what we do. (Editing isn’t a terribly lucrative career choice for 99 percent of us.) Just like your favorite teacher, they want you to be proud of what you’ve written and confident that you’re releasing a polished product into the world. So don’t take criticism personally, and keep in mind these three things that you should always expect from any editor worth his or her salt:

  1. Honesty. As I said earlier, editors want you to be successful and want your book to be amazing. I leave personal judgments at the door, even when I encounter material that I find morally reprehensible. My job is to tell you how your average reader would perhaps to react to what you’ve written, and I assume you’d want me to be honest in this respect. If you don’t want that kind of advice, perhaps consider keeping your book a passion project and not a product that people pay for.
  2. Timely service. Agencies typically have set schedules for their editors, but if you’re hiring an individual freelancer, you’ll want to establish a schedule with your consultant right from the beginning. Keep your expectations reasonable, and communicate with your editor not just when you want your drafts reviewed but also when you plan to officially have the book ready for release.
  3. Knowledge of your genre and the publishing atmosphere. As I note later in this post, your editor might not fit into the “demographic” you’re aiming for (maybe you write YA books, and your editor is an octogenarian), but you should keep your mind open. Talk with your editor about your genre of choice and what books he or she reads or has worked on in that genre.

Here’s what not to expect from your editor:

  1. Fawning praise. Consider this a professional endeavor, which requires objective feedback. You don’t have to heed every word of your editor’s advice (assuming you’re self-publishing), but I would recommend at least taking it into consideration. Additionally, remember that you hired this person to improve your manuscript, not stroke your ego. Even the best books I’ve worked on I’ve littered with comments about how the author could do things differently or improve. It’s my job.
  2. Demographic “fit.” I’ve had authors explain to me that their intended audience has “xyz” qualities–usually applicable to gender and especially age. While some knowledge of your intended audience is wise, don’t forgo hiring a qualified editor because he or she falls outside the realm of the “type” of person you expect to read your book. It can be helpful to have an “outside” perspective, as well. (Not to toot my own navel-gazing horn, but many of the clients I’ve worked with probably don’t expect that I’m under 25. And I’d rather they didn’t; my age isn’t anyone’s business and doesn’t speak to my editing ability.)
  3. Discuss with or promote your books to others. If you’re working with an independent freelancer, you might be able to work out a marketing plan, but I rarely see this (and I find it to be an unwise approach). It would be wise to draw up an NDA, just for the sake of a legal paper trail, but ethical editors will know better than to turn around and blab about your book to their cocktail-party friends. Of course, this also means that you shouldn’t expect your editor to do promoting or marketing for you; if you’re looking to broader your audience, consider hiring a marketing professional or even an agency.

I hope this advice is helpful, and good luck!

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