Sisters, it has been my joy to serve as your Blog Editor these past couple of years. But for all things there is a season, and the time has come for this one to end. We are passing the baton, and soon we will introduce you to the new editorial baton-holder. Meanwhile, this is my last post, and by way of farewell, I’ve been asked to provide a few tips on how to work well with an editor.
Because I am a writer first and an editor second, I’ve had the opportunity to sit on both sides of the editorial desk. As I pondered this, it occurred to me that many editorial best practices are excerpted from real-life experience. They are founded on principles of cooperation and courtesy, with just a few writerly nuts and bolts thrown in.
So whether you have intentions of working with an editor or simply want to work well with your fellow human beings, I hope these tips will help you step out boldly in whatever way God has called you to be a world changer for good right where you are.
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Let’s start with a basic truth: even the most skilled writer needs an editor. Because no matter how good a writer is, a skilled editor makes good better.
Here’s another truth: Good writing does not draw attention to the writing itself. Rather, it communicates a message. For that reason, the best writing allows the writer’s purpose, in her unique voice, to shine through without distraction. Thus, an editor’s role is to eliminate distraction.
What kinds of distraction? We’ll get to that in a moment. First, let’s define a few terms. If you’ve never worked with an editor before, you might like to know there are various kinds of editing.
A substantive edit (also known as a comprehensive edit) looks at your overall structure, identifying missing pieces, logic gaps, and the overarching message. It’s the BIG edit, the one that writers get most nervous about because it’s when we learn whether our piece is basically viable.
A line edit fine-tunes your sentences. Here editors pay attention to flow. It’s also where most of the aforementioned distractions get eliminated.
A copy edit fine-tunes your grammar, including spelling and punctuation. This is the nitty-gritty stuff — the dotting of i’s and crossing of t’s.
Most editors are better at one or two of these types of edits than all three. And more often than not, it’s wise to engage a different copy editor from the one who performed your substantive or line edit. Because over-familiarity with a work breeds blindness to its flaws.
Okay, about those distractions. A distraction is any stylistic curlicue or quirk that pulls the reader out of the story or message. You want an editor to be able to identify the writing habits you wish to break, while leaving your unique voice intact. One of my writerly bad habits, for instance, is using adjective, adjective noun too frequently. So that I tend to write the great, unending sea, when the unending sea would provide a stronger visual. Another habit I fall into is frequent use of compound sentences. There’s nothing wrong with compound sentences (as along as they’re punctuated properly), but when used too abundantly, that structure becomes monotonous and, yes, distracting to the reader.
Other common mistakes include using too many that’s, then’s, said’s, and passive verbs.
Okay, now that we understand generally the types of problems an editor helps to solve, how do we pave the way so that she can work her best magic on our writing?
- Approach an editorial relationship with a humble spirit. It’s the key to any healthy relationship, and indeed why the Open Door Sisterhood counts humility as one of our key creeds. The apostle James tells us that “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” So maintain a certain softness about your work because it is the humble who improve.
- Be responsive—and timely—to every communication. Editors tend to have many plates spinning and don’t have a lot of time (or inclination) to catch the ones that drop.
- Give yourself plenty of margin. When accepting an assignment, be sure to allow yourself adequate time to complete it. Meet your deadlines, or — if you absolutely cannot — communicate with the editor. In most cases, a reasonable extension can be arranged.
- Be proactive. If you already know what your writerly bad habits are, comb for those first yourself. (The Find feature in Word can be very helpful here.) If you can, get feedback from a critique partner or trusted reader before submitting to an editor.
- Always give your best. Never submit a first draft. Anything you deliver to an editor should be the finest you can make it.
- Go the extra mile. Give everything asked for. . .and then some. Adhere to requested word count, and be sure to include your author bio and profile pic. Then look for ways to go over and above. Come in ahead of the deadline, for instance, or submit your own (public domain) post image, which may help cut down on time your editor has to spend searching for one.
The best writer-editor relationships are a collaboration, a yin and yang partnership in which weaknesses are balanced and strengths allowed to shine. This requires trust, humility, and a growth mindset — all of which will serve you well beyond the written page, too.
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Katherine Scott Jones grew up in cities on every U.S. coast and overseas as her family moved with her father’s Navy career. Today she makes her home in Seattle with her husband and their two teens. A graduate of Whitworth University, she established herself as a freelance writer before turning her hand to fiction. Until recently, she served as editor of the Open Door Sisterhood blog and writes about books that celebrate beauty at www.katherinescottjones.com. She is the author of Her Memory of Music and Shadow Sister.