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How Editors and Authors Work Together

by Ted Gasner

In a vague sense, every author knows what an editor is there to do—make the manuscript as good as it can be. But how does this process work? And what’s the author’s role in this process?

Step 1: Let’s Talk

By email or on the phone, the author and the editor meet to discuss the author’s needs. Why has the author come to an editor? What does the author hope to accomplish with the manuscript? What are its strengths and weaknesses? By discussing these issues, the author and the editor get to know each other a bit, and they establish a frame of reference for working on the manuscript. The editor understands what the author is working toward, and the author understands how the editor will set out to get this done.

Step 2: Sample Edit

Every editor’s work is different. Some work with a light touch; some are inclined to extensively rework an author’s prose. Some are better communicators than others. The best editors teach authors how to improve their stories on their own.

A sample edit is a free edit of three or four pages of a manuscript. The editor will line edit and comment on what improvements the author needs to make—how to make descriptions and characters more vivid; how to be more suspenseful, more realistic, more economical.

If the author likes the sample edit—and the price is right—the real work begins.

Step 3: Assessing the Story

The author gives the manuscript to the editor for an overall review. Editors don’t do any rewriting at this stage; instead they identify the problem areas and offer suggestions for how to fix them. They comment on the overall structure of the story. They point out every place where the writing bogs down and suggest fixes. An editor might make hundreds of comments at this stage. Then it’s back to work for the author.

Step 4: The Copyedit

After the author reads the comments and revises the manuscript accordingly, the editor will polish it up. A good editor writes sharp, enjoyable prose, and this is the time to prove it. In track changes, the editor tightens and enlivens the writing without compromising the author’s unique voice.

Step 5: Final Touches

After the author accepts or rejects each track change, and possibly makes some final edits, the manuscript is returned to the editor for a thorough proofreading. Once all the errors and typos have been hunted down and fixed, the manuscript is ready for an agent!