How To Work With An Editor

Working With An Editor

I’ve been in talks for several months with a professional editor K. Hopkins (not a publisher or agent) to get my manuscript (MS) ready for querying to agents. I sent off some queries last year: I got a few nibbles, but all I’ve heard back is silence or rejections so far. Thus, it was time to call in the professionals. K. Hopkins finally got space on her schedule to work on my MS during the latter half of January.

Picking An Editor

Make sure you’re ready

Have you already done all the editing you can?

(If you know you’re bad at this level of editing, see if you can get a friend/family member to proof-read before you call on the experts!)

  • Are the sentences coherent
  • Is the plot as solid as you can make it
  • Did you run spell check
  • Did you run grammar check – look out for homophones!
  • Did you try to remove crutch words, passive voice, and adjective soup as much as you could without interfering with the readability of your writing?

Yay! You might be ready.

If you’re not sure, edit again! Especially if you’re spending money on this, you don’t want the editor spending so much time and effort fixing the easy stuff that they can’t focus on the story itself. Like cleaning a room, after you’ve gotten rid of the trash and done the laundry, it’s a lot easier to see what’s left to do.

Make sure they’re doing the type of editing you need

Are you just looking for copy-editing?

  • Grammar
  • Spelling
  • Word choice (passive voice, anyone?)
  • Consistency (names don’t change, hair color is consistent, etc)

Do you need developmental edits?

  • Plot holes
  • Pacing
  • Character developments
  • Scene setting
  • Believability

Make sure their editing style is something you can use

Not all editors work for all writers.

  • Some are too high level, when the writer is looking for concrete suggestions
  • Some are too low level, when the writer already has a solid voice that doesn’t mesh with the editor’s voice
  • Some don’t agree with the writer about the heart of the story, so their edits don’t mesh with the story the writer is trying to create
  • Some don’t agree with the writer about what the world looks like, so their edits don’t mesh with the world the writer is trying to create
  • Some are unorganized
  • Some are just not the skill-level advertised

You can test-drive a potential editor.

Just like beta-readers or critique partners, you don’t have to commit to sharing your full length manuscript right away. It’s fine to start small.

I’d worked my editor, K. Hopkins on my 1st chapter and my query letter. That gave me a feel for her editing style, voice, and level of feedback.

It also gave her a feel for my voice, plotting, characters, and a willingness to know more.

Saying that you just want to polish your 1st chapter and edit letter for querying purposes can give you a passive way of ‘rejecting’ an editor who doesn’t quite get you or your story. You don’t need to explain or back out of sending them more chapters.

I sent her my full manuscript on January 17th and by the 28th, she’d sent back her edits–just shy of two weeks turn around.

What I Got From My Editor

What I’ve received is a 6 page edit letter and ~2,500 line edits/commentary in the MS itself.

The edit letter started with a broad overview, then drilled down in four basic categories:

  1. World Building

    • Consistencies
    • Suggested Details
    • Suggested pacing – my world is a unique fantasy world with its own religion
  2. Plotting

    • Consistencies
    • Pacing
    • Plot holes – with suggestions to fix them
  3. Character(1)

    • Are they generic or unique characters?
    • Can the reader relate with the character? Or are they too good/bad/stupid?
    • Are the decisions realistic for the character?
    • Is the character necessary for the plot?
  4. Structure (2)

    • Passive voice
    • Show-don’t-tell
    • Language consistency – for me: fantasy curse words and avoiding modern terms
    • Dialogue tags and exact pronouns. Make sure your reader knows who’s talking and who’s being talked about
    • Crutch words – for me: just, should, could, that, begin/began

What I Did When I Got My Edit Letter

Panic and Procrastinate

When I got the edit letter on Saturday, my face went flush, my heart started to race, and I decided I was going to get all the chores done I needed to before I opened it, so they’d get done before my life narrowed back to me-my chair-my desk-and my manuscript.

An edit letter has a LOT of feedback.

I felt pulled in a lot of different directions and couldn’t decide how to start:

  • Read through the inline feedback?
  • Dive in and start fixing everything as I reached it?
  • Create a detailed outline?
  • Step back and look at each chapter and what needs to be added in?
    • Maybe use index cards or post its and make a visual map of the plot
  • Do the developmental edits, then see if the in-line edits still existed?

So, I hung out with friends, ate way too much, napped, and surfed the internet like it was my job.

Make a Plan

I’m not a fan of flailing like that. My free Sunday, (the day after I got the edit letter), was supposed to be dedicated to starting on these edits. Instead, Sunday was rapidly slipping away!

Finally, around 9:30pm, I made myself focus, started making my plan of action, and responded to my editor.

I asked how long she expected my revisions to take, looked at a calendar, and worked my way backwards from them.

Caveats: Remember that writing is a process and not a plug-and-play formula. What works for me might not work for you. What worked for you last time might not work for you this time.

My Schedule

  • Stage One: Initial Read-Through and low-hanging fruit

    • I wanted to see what all her comments were, but there were ~2,500 inline edits. That’s too much for me to focus on at once. I needed to clear them out so I could see what actually needed effort. So, I started reading through the comments.
    • Anything I can accept/reject/rework in under 2 minutes gets handled immediately.
    • This is the read-through, where I’m reading her notes and only looking at the text her commentary applies to.
    • I know that many of these edits will end up getting deleted or re-written, but does it matter? This way I can clear them out of the way to focus on what I need to.
    • So far, I’m ending up with 2-3 inline comments left per chapter. That’s a lot easier to keep track of when writing.
    • My goal is to finish this stage within two weeks.
  • Stage Two: Revise

    • This is where I’ll go through and change the plot, restructure whole scenes, add characters, subtract characters, and handle those more complicated inline comments.
    • My goal is to finish this stage within six weeks.
  • Stage Three: Copy-Edit

    • This is when I worry about structure issues–after I know that paragraph or scene isn’t going to be re-written or cut.
    • But wait, you took care of all that low-hanging fruit back in stage one?
      • I know, but that cleared the board so I could focus on the harder stuff. There was a lot of forest and I had to clear the underbrush to see what trees were sick or injured.
      • When the sentence sucks, you can’t tell if it’s saying what you mean it to.
      • When you rewrite a section, you need to edit it.
      • When you revise a section, you need to verify continuity throughout the novel.
    • My goal is to finish this stage in two weeks. Yeah, it’s going to be hard, but with any luck, stage two will finish early.
  • Stage Four: BASK!

    We know that’s lie. I’ll bask for a day or two, but then I’ve got several options. The likelihood of me doing all three in order is high.

    • Send my revisions back to K Hopkins for a final read-through and polish
    • Revise my Query letter
    • Start Querying

If the traditional route ends up failing me, I’ve still got two options:

  • Publish Independently
  • Set it on fire and let it float free into the ether

Now, the hard part. Actually doing the work. Wish me luck!

  1. Here, she broke down feedback for each character
  2. Writing technical skills


  1. This is indispensable information. I was referred to an editor by my dream agent–as part of the dreaded “R,” but this gives me something solid to evaluate the relationship/fit. Thanks for sharing, Sis.

    Liked by 1 person

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