How to deal with your editor’s notes

By   Hannah Bickerton 3 min read

Ah, the sweet relief of writing the final sentence of your book! All the late nights, the reams of research and the meticulous plotting are over – finished at last. But then, like a dark cloud on the horizon, an editor appears, red pen in hand (or MacBook under arm), to go through every single word of the manuscript and tell you what’s wrong with it. And you or your publisher are actually expected to pay for this so-called service?

There’s a lot more to editing than correcting typos, and you may encounter several types of editor – structural editor, line editor, copyeditor, proofreader – as you prepare your book for publication. Each of them will come back to you with comments and corrections, and it’s your job to decide which, if any, to take on board. Here are some tips to help you make the most of your editors’ nit-picking.

Editors are not trying to ruin your book.

Being edited can feel a bit like having your schoolwork marked by your least favourite teacher, but editors aren’t out to sabotage your work. We’re being paid to be pedantic – to correct errors as well as make suggestions that we think would improve flow, avoid ambiguity and fix any inconsistencies in the timeline or plot. We want to work with you to make your manuscript the very best it can be. If you can approach the editorial process with an open mind, you should find your collaboration with your editor creatively rewarding.

Editors are just slow readers.

We can come across as spellcheck robots on overdrive, but remember that your editor is just a fellow book-lover who wants to love your book. Often we’ll be a particular fan of your genre, and therefore a good prototype of your eventual audience. If we stumble over a sentence or don’t quite follow how A leads to B, chances are a lot of your readers will experience the same problems. As an author, you can sometimes be too close to the text to read (or misread) it through someone else’s eyes. Think of your editor less as an editor than as a first reader – a guinea pig, a canary in the mine, and any other animal metaphor that might work here.

Editors are (or should be) super-diplomatic.

We know that nobody likes criticism, especially not of a creative project that’s taken months if not years of hard work and dedication. We learn from experience to be almost self-effacingly sensitive when critiquing an author’s work, so you may see what would otherwise be a blunt statement couched in layers of ‘I wonder whether’, ‘Perhaps you might’, ‘Maybe it’s just me, but’ and even ‘Sorry if I’m being dense, but’. We’re not as unsure of ourselves as these phrases suggest: they usually translate as ‘I am absolutely convinced this would be an improvement’. However…

Editors can be wrong.

Yes, sometimes it is just us. Our job is to make suggestions for improvement, but they really are just that: suggestions. We’re just one reader. It’s your book and you have to be happy with how it goes out into the world. So always remember it’s OK to say no to your editor (politely if possible, though we’re pretty thick-skinned). If we feel this would leave the book with a major issue, we’ll come back to you and explain why – and even then, it’s up to you.

Silvia began her editorial career in 2003. Since then she has worked as an editor of fiction and non-fiction for publishers including HarperCollins, Penguin Random House and Faber & Faber, before joining whitefox in 2014. She has worked across most genres, with authors from Doris Lessing to Nigella Lawson, as well as overseeing the production of ebooks and tie-in apps.

Hannah Bickerton
Hannah Bickerton
Hannah has worked in marketing for nine years, specialising in strategy development for start-ups and EdTech companies. Having recently jumped across industries to join the Whitefox team, Hannah isn’t a complete stranger to the publishing world with previous employment at Macmillan and TES Global. She is now dedicated to ensuring that anyone who has something interesting to say knows all about whitefox.