– by Tony Jones
A while back I was in Chicago, meeting with my editor about my next book. I’ve known him professionally and as a friend for over a decade, but we’ve never worked together before, so I didn’t know quite what to expect. Over the course of a day, sitting at his kitchen table, we talked about everything from what I see as my role in the wider world to what should be my “voice” in this book to how the table of contents should flow.
As a result of our meeting, the table of contents is, in fact, completely different. I had written about 23,000 words of the manuscript prior to our meeting, so we also went over some passages, talking about my voice, my writing style, etc. All in all, it was a great meeting, and I’m fortunate to be working with him.
With a dozen books in print, I’ve worked with almost that many editors. I’ve also worked as an editor, both in my role at sparkhouse, and in a couple book projects. So, from my vantage point, here are my Top Ten Tips for Working with an Editor:
1) Fight for time with your editor. Some authors like working closely with their editors. Others prefer a more hands-off approach. I’m in the former camp. I really like the feeling that a book is a team project. But I’ve found that really happens primarily when I instigate it. Most editors seems to hang back and wait for the author to initiate meetings.
2) Remember that your editor works for you, and for the publisher. The editor is a conduit of sorts. She will work at making your book better, but she’s also got the best interests of the publisher at heart. These two allegiances aren’t contradictory, but they don’t always line up as much as you might want.
3) Remember that your editor isn’t only working on your book. Most editors are responsible for bringing between one and two dozen books to print per year. Be understanding when someone else’s book is ahead of yours in the queue.
4) Remember that your editor has other duties, too. If your book is one of twelve that your editor is working on, that doesn’t mean that your editor will spend a month, holed up in a cabin, editing your manuscript. He is also attending conferences and trade shows, going to meetings, and reading manuscripts that are coming in.
5) Take advantage of your editor’s view of the market. More than you, your editor is paying close attention to what’s selling. MY editor and I have had several conversations about what has made recent books by Rob Bell and Nadia Bolz-Weber successful. He tracks their sales on Bookscan, and he is reading trade publications that I’m not.
6) Decide what you’re going to fight for. Going into our meeting, there were certain things I really wanted. The title, for instance, was important to me. The table of contents was not. Something in between is my voice in this book, which my editor would like to be less professorial. Okay, he wants it to be not at all professorial. That’s going to be a struggle for me, not because I want to sound professorial, but because that’s how I’ve been trained to write.
7) Don’t be afraid to ask for another editor. If you’re writing a book for a publishing house or a magazine, and you just don’t click with the editor who acquired your book or article, as for a second opinion. One editor does not necessarily have the perfect perspective on your writing, and another set of eyes can be very helpful.
8) Thank your editor in the acknowledgments. This is an obvious one, but put it on your to-do list.
9) Use the lag time. After your book is complete, there will be several months before it comes out. And no one is more in touch with your strengths and weaknesses as a writer at that moment-in-time than your editor. She’s been neck deep in your writing for weeks or months. So ask her what she thinks you should write next. Bounce around some ideas. And, if possible, get a contract for your next book before the current book drops.
10) Involve the editor in marketing. The person who’s assigned to market your book has most likely not read it. Maybe he’s skimmed it. Your editor, on the other hand, is intimately acquainted with your book, and he probably works three desks down from the marketer. So encourage your editor to advocate for your book with the marketing team.