Saturday, 20 April 2013

Book editors' pet hates - authors please avoid!

Since my day job is Managing Editor for an art and craft book publishing company, I thought I might offer advice to writers embarking on a professional editor/author relationship. Most authors are a pleasure to work with, but there are one or two things you might want to avoid if you don't want to cause your editor unnecessary suffering.

Don't tell your editor that you have a husband/wife/friend who is an (amateur) expert at proof reading and is going to edit the text for you. They will feel instantly undermined and will foresee a battle for editorial supremacy.

At your first meeting, don't run down everything about your last publisher. Alarm bells will ring for your editor. If everything always goes wrong between you and your publishers, you might want to start considering what the common denominator is. Could it be you?

When making text corrections, do not just send in the text you first sent, with your changes buried within it. Your editor will have edited this first version, so by sending it again you are making them do the job twice. They will also have to play 'spot the difference' to find out where your changes are.

Do not battle over every comma. Allow the editor to do his or her job and confine your objections to things that really matter. Having your work published always involves some relinquishment of control. Take a deep breath and aim to be as rational as you can.

Do not deliver every stage late and then get distressed when told the book will not be ready for a launch you were planning. Some authors treat deadlines as a moveable feast for them but expect schedules to be kept by everyone else.

Do not insist on using a favourite holiday snap of you for your author photograph, in which you are not looking at the camera, your hair is blowing over your face and a friend has to be cropped out of the frame. Have a photograph done professionally if you want your book to look, well, professional.

Don't turn up unexpectedly at the office and expect your issues to be dealt with then and there. Editors have other books and deadlines and need to schedule you in, reacquaint themselves with the finer points of your book and in some rare cases, brace themselves for your arrival.

Do not be alarmed if your editor is not a renowned expert on the subject on which you are writing. He or she is paid to be an expert at editing (unless you are publishing in a very specialist field). Not being an expert can help an editor to make your work accessible. If the editor can't understand it, then it may not be clear enough. The editor takes the place of the idiot to make your writing idiot-proof.

Do not ring to ask for early copies of the book, or publicity material, for an event that is only a day or two away. It will be the production and publicity departments who will be thrown into panic by this, but the editor will have to hear about it. Give people plenty of notice and they will be happy to help; it is in their interests to help  you publicise your book.

If you bring a friend/partner along to meetings, make sure they take a supporting role and don't tell the publishing team how to do their job.

Don't allow a well-meaning friend or partner to become your self-appointed agent. Your publisher wants to liaise with you, the author. Third parties can become over-protective like some doctor's receptionists and publishing deals have been known to fall through because of them.

Do not go to ground. Keep in touch with your editor. There’s no excuse for become completely incommunicado when you are supposed to be working on a project together. Unless perhaps you are Salman Rushdie.

If you include acknowledgments in your book, don't forget your long-suffering editor. It can be dispiriting to be left out of an acknowledgements list that includes every member of your family, your friends, primary school teachers and pets.


  1. Point number 3 used to bug me soooo much working on magazines! I might add: "And don't think that sending expensive flowers to your editor afterwards makes up in ANY WAY AT ALL for resupplying corrected copy in full several times"!

    1. Glad someone feels my pain over that one! I've never been sent flowers though, I think most authors are blissfully unaware of how difficult it makes things!

  2. Excellent advice. I remember my editor at my first publisher introducing himself and saying "I'm your editor. Your only editor. If you've got a critique group or beta reader, fire them. You're a professional now. Publishing is not a democracy."