You’ve done the hard work. You’ve spent months if not years completing your manuscript. You’ve poured thousands of hours into your book, questioning every period, double guessing every comma. And now you are finally at the stage where you’re ready to work with your editor. They’re, of course, going to go over your work with their magnifying glass and dark red pen.
Whether you are paying the editor out of your own pocket or they’ve been assigned to you by a publisher, the experience is the same. There’s nothing more deflating than having your manuscript sent back to you, filled with more red marks than white space.
Your editor isn’t the bad guy you think they are. In most cases, the editor is just doing their job, and they want exactly what you want—to turn your manuscript into the best possible version of itself.
And sometimes, that requires many more changes than you might be comfortable with. Instead of lashing out or cutting away from the editor, here are five ways to work with your editor like a pro. Starting today.
The moment you finish the latest draft of your manuscript, it’s time to step away. Stepping away means getting yourself unattached. You want to disassociate the high of completing a giant project like a book from the belief that it’s the best book that has ever been written.
After you spend several weeks grinding away at the finishing touches of your manuscript, it can be impossible to have an unbiased view of your work.Feel free to send your manuscript to your editor and use that time before they return it to you to forget about it. Stop going over the documents and stop anticipating your editor’s comments. The more infatuated you are with your manuscript, the tougher it will be to read what they have to say.
When you finally do get your editor’s comments and changes, the first reaction that many authors have is to open up their file and go over the suggested changes one by one. Agonizing over the individual changes recommended by your editor one-by-one is just a headache waiting to happen.
When you work with your editor, try a different approach. Because it’s not about the individual changes at all. It’s about the way their changes come together to evolve the entirety of your manuscript. Whatever your gut reaction might be, the truth is that your editor is a professional and (in most cases) knows what they are doing. Before reacting to anything, go over all of their comments and spend a day, or a week, thinking about them.
What was the purpose of their changes? How do their changes shift the tone and balance of my manuscript? What made them think this way? What about me prevented me from seeing it? We’re not saying you have to eventually agree with your editor on everything, but you should give the respect and time to properly evaluate what they have to say. After all, it’s why you set out to work with your editor in the first place.
Having someone pick away at your writing can be a terrible and terrifying experience. And it isn’t something that gets better with age. Unlike playing music in a band or filming a movie, writing is something you do completely alone. It’s an art form that requires you to dig deep into yourself and fish out what feels right. It’s normal to feel personally attacked when someone comes in and criticizes everything you’ve worked so long and hard on.
The easiest way to deal with this is to rationally look at the situation. Regardless of what you may think about your manuscript, the fact of the matter is you have another person going over your work. That other person has another perspective, with their own ideas and insights, and they are bouncing their thoughts off your manuscript.
Tell yourself this: it’s not about your ego. Your editor is not your antagonist, trying to point out the reasons why your manuscript will never be a success. Your editor is your trainer, your partner, and you two share the same goals.
After accepting the comments and internalizing the reality that none of this is personal, the worst thing you can do is start fearing your own manuscripts. This is a major problem many writers have. After they have been told about the flaws and mistakes in their writing, they approach it with a new level of fear and anxiety. When you work with your editor, does it feel like you’re a child coming home with a bad report card? This is totally the wrong way to handle this.
Try this instead. Open the file after mustering up all the confidence that allowed you to finish the book in the first place. Because you rock. Stay confident in your writing, and you can do this by once again drowning your own ego.
The reality is simple—you were never the perfect writer you might have once thought you were. No writer is, not even the ones you love reading the most. So edit with the same brazen attitude that you wrote with, but this time enjoy the insight of another professional helping you get over your blind spots.
Finally, don’t be afraid to communicate. When you work with your editor, they’re not going to go away on vacation for the next month after they hand you their comments and suggestions (unless they are, of course). If something is confusing you or bothering you about something they said, and if you have given it the time to truly evaluate the suggested change, then feel free to talk to them about it.
Email them, text them, message them. Communicate and work with them until you understand their vision for your work and whether or not you are willing to accept that vision. Then get on with the job of preparing your manuscript for publishing.
Boni is co-founder of Ingenium Books and an author, editor, and ghostwriter. She also manages communications and media for the Alliance of Independent Authors. As an award-winning former Canadian television reporter, news anchor, producer, and talk show host, working under the names Boni Fox and Boni Fox Gray, Boni covered politics, government, the economy, health, First Nations, and crime. She won several Canadian Association of Broadcaster (CAB) awards and a Jack Webster Award for best documentary. Boni also held senior management roles in government, leading teams responsible for editorial, issues management, media relations, strategic communications planning. Boni is co-author of Rock Your Business: 26 Essential Lessons to Start, Run, and Grow Your New Business From the Ground Up.
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