How to Work with an Editor - A Guide for (Nervous) Authors Kindle Edition

Book by Mark Dawson - Key Takeaways

Many authors, especially in the self-publishing business, don’t like the idea of having an editor gutting their masterpiece beyond recognition. However, a quality edutir can maje the difference between a best seller and a book getting lost in the sea of new releases. In his book How to Work with an Editor: A Guide for (nervous) Authors, Mark Dawson shows you how to hire a suitable editor, what they can do for you, and how to deal with them. Here are some of the lessons (of many more) that I’ve found helpful in the book.

Why do You Need an Editor?

Simply put, because we all make mistakes and your book needs to be an error free masterpiece. Even if you scrutinize every single line of text, you can still fall prey to tunnel vision.

It’s understandable that you do not want anyone else’s voice in your writing, not to mention a paid stranger. However, that stranger will bring with them a fresh pair of eyes which is exactly what your writing needs. After all, a good editor will not interfere with your voice but rather, they will help it reach its full potential.

Evaluating Your Writing

If you’re convinced that you need an editor, the next step is to figure out what kind of editing you need. Size up your own work, and factor in your experience and previous feedback. Or better yet, show someone else you trust a manuscript and ask them what they think.

Before you send your manuscript to an editor, you might want to save them some time (billable hours) by formatting it in a neat 12-point font with double spacing, preparing a word and page count, and making a list of the things you want your editor to pay extra attention to. Also, make good use of your spell check and grammar check functions.

Types of Editing


Proofreading is checking the document for spelling mistakes, spacing, punctuation, and grammar. This should be done at the very end, right before you can call your work finished. Some people hire a separate proofreader to go through the document after it has been edited.

Simple Copy Editing

This is similar to proofreading to some extent but here an editor takes a look at your word choice, syntax, and writing consistency. Copy editing is a more technical approach where the editor deals more with the words used rather than their intended meaning or message.

Substantive Editing

Here the editor focuses on the content, as well as, the structure of your writing. This option is preferred by new writers or writers with little time, for example. The editor will probably reword some sentences to make the words flow easier, get rid of the passive voice, change up heavier words, fact check, and maybe even rearrange whole paragraphs.

Structural Editing

This kind of editing focuses mainly on the broader picture. The context, the characters, the plot, the development, and so on. This is for authors who feel like their book is lacking something, or maybe was told by someone who read it that it’s difficult to understand. In the first round the editor will likely address plot issues first, then once it’s functional they will move on to the content and copy editing.

Finding a Good Editor

There are hundreds of thousands of editors out there, how do you find the one that is right for you?

Referrals and word of mouth

The best way to find an editor is through another author’s recommendation. This is one of those times where being a more sociable author has its perks. In any case, there’s no harm in asking other writers in your genre for recommendations, most people are happy to help.

Editors’ societies and associations These are just what they sound like.

You can also look up editor associations near you. They are sort of clubs or a union that editors pay a subscription to be a part of. Usually you can find a list of editors and their specialties on their website. A couple of examples are:  American Copy Editors Society (ACES),  Council of Science Editors, Editors Association of Canada, and Editorial Freelancers Association (US).

Vetting Possible Editors

Once you have an editor or a few candidates you should contact them with your request along with the genre and field of your book, the word and page counts, when you need it, your budget if you have one, things you need done to your manuscript and things you don’t want done to it, and how you’ve found them.

When you hear back from editors it’s common practice to send them a sample edit to gauge if you’re good for each other or not. Whether or not a sample edit is free or not is up to the editor.

Things to Ask anEditor

How much will this cost? You can give them your budget and ask if they can accommodate it. You should also ask if they require a deposit up front, which is common practice.

What are their credentials or references? Most editors have relevant certificates or education, while others make up for it with years of proven experience, and it’s your right as a client to ask about their background. Be mindful that some editors (rightfully) don’t want to share their client list.

Do they have a  contract? Not all editors provide contracts, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. In any case, the email correspondence between you is considered legally binding.

Other very important things to ask are “What’s your process?”, “How many rounds of editing are included?”, and “Is a follow up included in the budget?”

Deliverables to Expect from an Editor

Here is what you should your editor to deliver: a clean copy with the edited manuscript, a mark-up copy with tracked changes, a style sheet that details the language and style used in the manuscript and what it was edited for, and your editor’s notes where your editor explains what they did in a list. Of course, the deliverables vary between editors so make sure you know what to expect before they start.

Revise & Revise Again!

It’s important revise the returned manuscript as soon as possible, before your editor moves on to another project and loses focus from your writing. Create a working copy for yourself and leave the editor’s copies for reference. Some tips to keep in mind:

• Read the editor’s notes carefully to make sure everything you needed is there, then check the mark-up for these changes.

• Spelling, punctuation, and grammar are a given, so you don’t need to waste time on that.

• Read any comments in the mark-up version and see if they contain any valid points or concerns.

• Keep an open mind towards reworded and rearranged sections and try to be objective rather than defensive.

How to Be a Difficult Client (Please don’t be)

As an editor and a writer, Mark Dawson gives some insight on how to be a good client. Here’s a list of things to avoid for a smooth transaction:

• Not preformat your manuscript (12-point, double space, and spell check) or prepare a word and page count

• Not give them a list of things to look out for

• Delay paying your deposit

• Update your manuscript while they’re halfway through editing it

• Nag your editor constantly about updates

• Change your agreed upon deadline midway and not expect to pay extra

• Delay revising the delivered edited version

• Not recommend them to others if you like their work

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