August 20, 2018

Working with an editor: 10 invaluable tips

By Madeleine Dodge

You close your manuscript, lean back, and sigh with relief: You’ve finally finished writing your book. Then suddenly, you’re jerked out of your reverie when you realize: It’s time to send my manuscript to an editor! How will you ever find the courage to push “send”?

We know how hard it can be for authors to let go of their books and put them in an editor’s hands, but it doesn’t have to be as traumatic as it sounds. The right editor—and the right mindset working with that editor—should instill the trust and confidence you need to create the best book possible.

How can you make the most of the process? We talked to someone who could offer sage advice.

Donna Mazzitelli is a successful writer, editor, and owner of Merry Dissonance Press. For over 15 years, she worked as an editor and writer in the legal and medical fields, before she began editing books. Since 2010, she has been editing others’ work and coaching writers. She has published two children’s books to date and is working on her first memoir.

Below, Mazzitelli offers 10 ways to make the most of the editing process:

Choose the right editor. Mazzitelli emphasizes that you must know yourself before you can know which editor is right for you. Some authors need blunt directions, such as, “Do this, don’t do that,” while others need softer feedback with options and suggestions. Ask for sample edits from prospective editors and have follow-up conversations to ensure you’re getting the right match, both in personality and affinity for your genre.  

Don’t skimp on price. Finding a great editor is worth a hefty price tag. But if money is an issue, still make sure the cheaper editor is a good fit; getting your manuscript re-edited because your editor didn’t “get” your project will cost more in the long-run.

Make sure your manuscript is ready. Before you involve an editor, read through your manuscript at least twice, allowing substantial time in between readings. Your work doesn’t need to be perfect, but it should be complete. Mazzitelli further suggests a peer-edit, done by someone who can give constructive feedback on content, flow, character, and plot development, before your editor sees it.

Keep an open mind. Set the intention that you’ll do whatever it takes to make the book great. Trust your editor and try not to cling to the original manuscript.  For example, you may love your title, but your editor may feel it doesn’t serve the essence of your story or grab readers’ attention. Although you have final say on whether to make suggested changes, rest assured: If your editor had a problem with an aspect of your work, future readers are likely to, as well.

Expect to make revisions.  Authors want others to tell them their book is perfect and doesn’t require changes, but that won’t make it a better book. The most productive editing experiences are the ones that suggest areas for improvement. Mazzitelli emphasizes that the editing process is another phase in the development of your manuscript. You must be willing to dig in and do more work.

Once your editor has your manuscript, keep your hands off it. While your manuscript is in the hands of your editor, don’t solicit other opinions or make revisions on your own. Having different versions of your manuscript floating around will make it more difficult for your editor. Instead, busy yourself with preliminary book marketing projects, such as building a website. It might even be a good time for a much-needed vacation!

Have a conversation with your editor before you read the first edits. Your first developmental edit will likely be the toughest, with the most substantial changes. Hopefully, your editor will offer a conversation beforehand to lessen the blow. If not, request a dialogue. Once your editor explains the bigger edits, and his or her perspective, reading his/her comments will seem less overwhelming.

Make sure you understand the edits.  It may also help to have a conversation with the editor after you review those first-round edits. Read through the editor’s comments and questions and make note of any confusion you have. An in-person meeting or call via phone or Skype will ensure that you have clarity before moving forward.

Expect the process to take at least four to six months. If you go to your editor expecting to publish your book in three months, you’re being unrealistic. The process of passing the manuscript back and forth and working through necessary rewrites takes time. Expect a longer process and plan accordingly with your release date.

Know when it’s time to stop. Resist the urge to continue editing your book once the editing process is complete. Many authors continue to nitpick their manuscript and never see their book in print. Accept that it’s time to move on to the design and production phases so that you can finally see the finished product.

Madeleine Dodge, a BlueInk Review Summer 2018 intern, is a Rhetoric and Media Studies Major at Lewis & Clark College and author of the children’s book “Does A Giraffe Ever Feel Small?”

BlueInk Review is a fee-based book review service devoted to self-published titles exclusively. For more news and writing and marketing tips, sign up for our mailing list. And be sure and visit us at

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