Working with an editor is similar to having a roommate – a partnership – and sometimes even a spouse. You are in a deeply intimate relationship requiring a great deal of commonality and trust.
Although there are a million good editors available to you, not all are right for you. It’s like dating, or getting married. The right man for me (and I had him) is not – was not – the right man for my friends. He and I fit together perfectly. Yet, as those of you who know me know, I’m not the right fit for many other people.
So, what do you need to look for when you are selecting the right editor for you?
Yes, of course, there are the basic necessities: Editorial experience. Intelligence. Availability. Reasonably priced. Those are merely threshold questions though. How about:
If you and your editor agree on most important areas, it will be much easier for him or her to understand what you are trying to say – and will offer suggestions that will improve your point of view. On the other hand, someone who has a very different view might change your message. I had that happen to me years ago when I was trying to hire an editor for a book on sexual harassment I was planning to write. I had to quickly terminate relations with two people who wanted to offer their perspective – which was vastly different from my own.
When Marjorie Johnson was writing her book about bird watching, she needed to have someone familiar with airplanes and with airports in the Bay Area. If you are writing about York in England, wouldn’t it be helpful if your editor had been there too and could experience with you walking down those side streets?
What about someone sharing your love for 18th century history? Wouldn’t that be of help? If I am writing about New York and all the little friendly neighborhoods, my editor would be so much more helpful if she too understood what walking down the street in a neighborhood felt like.
When writing my Leadership book, I turned to an editor who had vast business experience as well as someone who understood and agreed with my point of view.
This is so very important. Will you be able to accept his/her suggestions because of respect and trust? More importantly, will you feel free to disagree and go your own way without fear if you feel strongly about your own words?
I once wrote a poem to my Bill, which said in part: “Thank you for being you, sensitive to me, knowing you know you can say NO or YES, allows me the freedom to ask.”
That’s trust. That’s equality. That’s the rare ability that allows for free exchange of ideas back and forth. Can you find some approximation of this with your editor?
Do you remember how frustrating you found it if you were working with someone who was much slower – or much faster – than you? We are most comfortable with people with whom we share a general pace.
Too, if you are paying your editor for his or her services, will you be able to provide that person with enough material in a timely manner? Pace is a two-way street.
You need to create a formal – in writing – agreement as to what you each expect from each other in this relationship. Who does what? When? How? And for how much?
Editing is not the same as proofreading. Will your editor also be your proofreader, or do you need to hire someone else to do that level of detailed specificity? Find out.
You also need to codify your exit strategy (divorce) if things don’t go as planned for either of you. What does it take to get out of the relationship without undue harm to yourself and to the editor?
Be sure you agree in advance – write it down – and make sure both of you sign it. Don’t rely on a handshake or a memory of what you had decided. Write it down. Oral contracts don’t stand up well in court, and memories vary as to what was actually said or agreed to – without the documentation.
Don’t be cheap! Finding the right editor for you is so important and will make your life so much easier – and your manuscript so much better.