Making the Author-Editor Connection: The Importance of Being Edited

by | Apr 20, 2011

by Anne Ross

Today I have a guest post for you from Anne Ross. Anne is an editor with a wide range of experience, and here she talks about a subject that’s really critical for every self-publisher: how to find, work with, and budget for book editing. I’ve often said that the number one priority in your budget should be editing, it’s that important. Here’s Anne’s article:

If you’re reading this, it’s likely you’re in some phase of authorship and contemplate working with an editor at some point. Essentially, a good editor can help ensure that your work looks professional and that your words speak your intent clearly.

Anne Ross headshot x125Ideally, a manuscript editor can edit relative to substance and structure (as a substantive editor), mechanical detail and factual accuracy (as a copyeditor), and sometimes even graphic and illustrative correctness (as an illustration editor), depending on your needs and preferences.

This expertise is of course meant to complement your own. While you’ve devoted much time, energy, and attention to developing your book’s content, your editor will have devoted many years to refining his or her editorial art. That is, as a type of communication specialist—being familiar with myriad subtle rules, conventions, and principles you might not know, thus allowing you to avoid errors your readers would no doubt point out to you—an editor affords you the value of a special kind of time.

Even so, finding your ideal editor is a process that itself requires time, and it should be undertaken early on.

Find a Qualified Editor

The question, though, is how to evaluate an editor’s skill if it’s a skill you yourself do not possess. Here are three simple methods:

  1. Rely on word-of-mouth referrals and endorsements from people you trust.
  2. Have different editors mark up the same unedited sample text. Compare the results.
  3. Ask some “test” questions an experienced editor should be able to answer.

    For example:

    Q: What’s the difference between the relative pronouns that and which?

    A: The former is restrictive and the latter is nonrestrictive. (That is used in restrictive relative clauses, and which is used in nonrestrictive relative clauses.)

    For example: “It was the book about the picture that told the whole story” (restrictive) means that the picture told the whole story. “It was the book about the picture which told the whole story” (nonrestrictive) means that the book told the whole story.

    “It was the book about the picture, which told the whole story” (restrictive because of the comma before the which) means that the picture told the whole story.

    Q: How is the suffix -like properly added to words?

    A: Use a hyphen if the base word is a proper noun or has two ells (ll) at the end (so that you don’t end up with three ells in a row); otherwise, use no hyphen.

    For example: Michelangelo-like; bell-like; encyclopedialike; and animallike.

    Q: What’s the difference in meaning between “my son John” and “my son, John”?

    A: “My son John” means I have more than one son, and I’m referring to one of them, whose name is John. “My son, John” (with the comma) means I have only one son, I’m referring to him, and his name is John.

Prepare Your Work for Handoff

Informal peer reviews can be extremely helpful in preparing your work for handoff to a professional editor. Seek out as much preliminary feedback as possible from as many different people as possible—family members, friends, neighbors, acquaintances, colleagues—and incorporate whatever suggestions can improve your book.

If you’re writing a book that is technical or instructional, then testers, too, can help you make necessary revisions before you convey your manuscript to an editor. Especially valuable is a tester who comes to the text with “fresh eyes”—that is, a person who knows nothing or little about the subject and must rely on only the explanations and instructions you provide in your book.

If your book contains many facts that will need to be checked, check them yourself first and provide the substantiating notes with the manuscript when you hand it off for editing. That way, the editor does not have to duplicate your research (a very time-consuming, and therefore costly, undertaking), and you’ll always have a consolidated set of data for future reference.

Finally, provide your manuscript in a format that allows the editor plenty of room to do his or her markup double spacing and monospace fonts (such as Courier) are suggested.

Plan Your Budget Early On

By determining a general budget for editorial services and earmarking funds well in advance, you minimize stress and buy time for yourself later on, when you’re especially eager to get your finished book to publication.

So, what should you budget for editorial services, and how can you minimize that expense without compromising quality?

First, it stands to reason that the more you do on your own to prepare your manuscript, the less time an editor will need to put in.* Again, peer reviews, testing, and fact checking will go a long way toward reducing the cost of editorial services.

However, it is only appropriate to compensate at a higher rate than normal for editing that requires specialized knowledge (medical, legal, mathematical, architectural, etc.), and for involved fact checking and other such tasks. Also, the most highly skilled editors command higher rates than others—justifiably—because they work very fast and their work is reliable.

The more you as an author learn from your editors, the less they will need to do for you over time. This can ultimately both reduce your outlay and help you become a better, more esteemed writer.

*A fairly simple method of approximating a budget is set forth on the pricing page of this guest blogger’s site. Just use what you know about your manuscript and your working style to estimate an amount of funds to reserve to pay an editor.

Anne Ross is a writing and editing professional who believes the angel is in the details. She lives in San Rafael, California. Additional information about her services is available online at

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  1. Leah Petersen

    Great topic to cover! I ache every time I see a self-pub author who is so obviously talented but if they’d just used an editor…

    I don’t think most authors understand the benefit, the ROLE of an editor. I know I didn’t until I started working with mine. It’s a different discipline.

    No book of true brilliance came about as a one-man effort.

  2. David Carr

    In finding an editor, yes, get referrals from people you trust and whose writing you admire. Look in the Acknowledgements of your favorite books – great editors will be gratefully acknowledged. Attend Writers Conferences and listen to editors to see whose capacity to communicate you resonate with. “Consulting” with potential editors on their terms will tell you if they are good match.

    Requesting submissions of editing samples may or may not be useful, depending on what your writing needs. I will no longer respond to these requests because they turn out to be a waste of my time. They are usually not for the sorts of projects that I want to work on, but from a few page sample, I can’t know that. I also cannot discern from a few pages if copy editing (and perhaps voicing) is what the writing really needs. I need to evaluate a good hunk of manuscript for that. I also cannot see structural problems from a small sample, and a large majority of manuscripts I see need structural work before copyediting is useful.

    For a dissertation or professional market, OK: THAT and WHICH might matter to someone who depends on such distinctions in order to deem you worth paying attention to. And there are editors who love being grammarians. (Now I’m moved to explore what sorts of editors different enneatypes would be – but spare mornings are too rare.)

    But if you are writing fiction, memoir, how-to, political insight which will change a reader’s worldview – find an editor who incites you to passion, one who can feel who you really are and find what still lies hidden beneath the words you’ve written. Especially find someone who can speak your language and capture or refine your distinctive voice – which may vary with every piece you write. Someone who will get in the trenches with you and mud-wrestle your ideas (and beliefs) into clarity. Nor should your editor dominate the process, but be a guide who can evoke your keenest understanding and uncover your fear and doubt. Someone who can both see and listen.

    Perhaps most efficient for our modern communications is to check their websites. You will find out what skills they have, how they present themselves, what experience they bring to your project, what their clients say about them – and most importantly: if you resonate. A good working relationship is more important for most projects than good grammar. The beauty of writing in English is that with two grammars and two vocabularies underlying our language, there are infinite ways to say almost anything. Ask three editors to edit a sample and you’ll be surprised (especially if they are good editors) and how much potential lies in our mother tongue.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Great advice, as usual, David, and I can really feel your passion in this comment.



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