Don’t Let an Editor Ruin Your Book!

I’ve worked in almost all the different aspects of publishing. Editor, writer, agent. Seen and done almost all there is. And it’s always fascinating when I hear writers talk about editors as though they’re these mean, rigid despots who just want to ruin their books. That is SO not who I, or the other editors I’ve known all these years, are like. We don’t want to ruin anything. We want to help. But when we try to do that, all too often the reaction is angry, frustrated writers who can’t believe we’re suggesting the changes we are.

So how do you keep an editor from “ruining” your book? Well, first and foremost, realize the editor is for you. As in on your side. As in looking to help.

Second, make sure you hire the right editor. If you’re writing fiction, has this editor worked with novelists before? In your genre? Do they have recommendations from clients (not friends) that they’ve worked with in the past? If you’re writing nonfiction, same questions! Has the editor worked on your genre of nonfiction before? Any recommendations from satisfied clients?

Third, make sure you are CLEAR about what you want from the editor.


* At what stage do you want to hear from the editor?

*How often during the evaluation or edit do you need an update?

*Make the schedule crystal clear. What is your drop-dead due date for finishing the edit? Do you want the manuscript to come to you as each chapter is edited, or when the whole thing is done? How much time do you need to review the editing?


Are there things you don’t want changed? Make that clear right up front. In fact, put together a style sheet to send with the manuscript outlining any elements that need to be as they are. Is there dialect that has to be the way you have it, or terminology specific to a character’s job? For example, to the world in general, widows and orphans are to be cared for. But to typesetters? Widows and orphans must be eliminated! Mwahahaa– Um…never mind.


What if you think the only problem with your book is the character development, but the editor comes back and says your basic craft needs a lot of work? It’s helpful to tell the editor up front what you think the issues are, but that you’re open to what they think needs to be revised. But be sure you are open.


Ask the editor to send you 5 edited pages before she jumps into the full edit. That way you can see her editing style. Does she show you want she’s suggesting by rewriting a line? Does she just make suggestions in comments? Does she use Track Changes? Let her know what you do and don’t like about the sample edit. This way you both can be sure that the edit will be done in a way that best suits you.


The best way to deal with the money side is to have a work-for-hire contract in which you outline not just the fee, but the following as well:

*Pay schedule. Are you paying 50% of the fee upfront, and 50% on completion? Or paying the whole thing upfront? A lot of this will be dependent on what the editor expects, but even then you need to get it in writing.

* Kill fee. How much will you pay if you receive the edit and don’t think it’s done as you both agreed it would be. I shouldn’t have to say this, but I will: be fair! Remember, it’s not just that the editor has spent time evaluating and working on your manuscript. She also didn’t accept other jobs so she could do your job. Just like writers, freelance editors often live month to month. Your editor may be counting on the fee for your project to cover the bills that month. You need to take all of the editor’s side of things into consideration.

* Financial Change. What happens if your finances change in the middle of the project? A job loss, a car breaking down, illness and/or unexpected medical expenses?

* Schedule change. What will you do about fee if you realize, halfway through, that you need more revision time? If you’ve agreed that half the fee will be paid on completion, then asking for more time will affect the editor’s bottom line. You need to have an agreement up front about whether or not the fee must be paid at a certain time, regardless of if you need more time.

So the key, then, is being sure you’re CLEAR with the editor right up front. That will make the process easier on both of you. And who knows? You might even find you enjoy the edit.

(Yeah…what can I say, I make things up for a living. <wink>)


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Best Selling Books Sixty Years Ago

Continuing my early 2016 focus on sixty years ago, today we will look back at the New York Times bestseller list for January 15, 1956. Fiction ANDERSONVILLE, by MacKinlay Kantor (Won the Pulitzer Prize for 1956) MARJORIE MORNINGSTAR, by Herman Wouk (Made into a 1958 film with Gene Kelly and …

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Eternal optimism must be the attitude if one is to survive the roller coaster ride of the publishing business. There seems to be some new change every month if not every week. For example, this past week we got word of three different editors at three different publishers leaving their …

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Fun Fridays – Jan. 8, 2016

Some book covers use stock photography as their foundation, but others are original and have a dedicated photo shoot. Take a look at this behind the scenes video of what has become the new cover for Lynette Eason’s February release, Always Watching. (Lynette is one of Tamela’s clients.) It is book one in …

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I Hate the Church (?)

Wow. Another year ended, another new year begun. As I considered what to say about 2015, something struck me: I heard more hard words from believers in 2015 than ever before. No, not “hard words” as in hard things the Lord told people to say. Just hard words. Words spiked …

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Tomorrow Starts Now

1956 was an interesting year (other than the year of my birth).  There were wars and rumors of wars, great music, movies, books, political campaigning, controversy involving Islamic control of various nations and trouble in the Middle East. Sound familiar? Woody Guthrie’s song “This Land is Your Land” was popular, …

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2015 – A Year in Review

I like to take a look at the past year as an exercise in measuring success and failure – all while counting God’s blessings. (If you’d like to look at previous annual reports they can be found here: 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2009.) The Agency Thrives The agency continues to thrive in the midst …

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Still Wanted: Writing that Sings! (What Karen Ball is Looking For)

Anyone who has jumped into the waters of agenting knows they’ll be asked one question, over and over and over:  “What are you looking for?” Well, now that I’ve got a couple of years of this amazing work under my belt, let me build on what I said when I started. Back then, I said I was looking, first and foremost, for books that glorify God, then for writing that sings, that speaks to the heart and spirit, that uplifts and challenges. Well, that’s all the same! But there are a few clarifications I want to make.  First, here’s the not so good news:

What I’m Not Looking For

Children’s & Middle Grade Books: As much as I enjoy reading these books (that’s one of the only perks to never having had children—I get all the kid’s books!), I am not representing them. It’s not that I don’t see the need. It’s simply that I’m not experienced with these kinds of books. My work lo, these many years in publishing, has been with adult books. Now, I have worked with Young Adult fiction and nonfiction, but I already have some great clients in that category and am not, at present, looking for more.

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