Your Editor—Partner and Ally


Let’s just admit it right up front. Most artists, especially writers, have a deep-seated fear of critique.

Now, we may say that we’re open to feedback, but the reality is this—we have an uneasy relationship with critique, even tenuous at best. We want our work to be the very best it can be, sure, but we often falsely believe we can get it there all on our own. We believe that, given enough time and space, we can create the next piece of great literature—completely on our own.

Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth. While it can be intimidating to turn over a chapter or a manuscript to the scrutiny of the editorial process, good writers see their editor as a partner in creating the best final product possible.

It was about 2:30 in the morning in the fall of 1994 when I pressed the “send” button on a completed manuscript for the first time. I remember the exhausted exhilaration I felt. The project was “finally over.” All the hard work had come to an end. The weeks and months of research and late nights had come to an end with the press of a button—or so I thought.

A few weeks later a package arrived at my house. Noticing it was from my editor, I tore into the package to find my manuscript, filled with scribbles and more post-it notes than I had ever seen in one place. What I was about to embark upon was something I had been warned would come—the editorial process.

To be honest, I had thought the editorial process would be an easy one, given the quality of work I had submitted. I had given them what I thought was the next New York Times Bestseller—just add cover. The truth, however, was much different. Over the next few weeks, I would sit through meetings with my editor, going page by page, seeing my so-called “masterpiece” torn apart from every conceivable angle. Yet to my amazement, when we finished the process, the book was better than I could have ever imagined.

Over the ensuing years, as I have been involved in scores of different projects with a host of different editors, one lesson has stuck with me. Editors are my friends. As tough as critique can be to hear, the process of refining a manuscript is something best done in community with others who are as committed to the process as I am.

As you have your own triumphant, “send button” moment—here are a few insights about working with an editor that might help you.

Embrace partnership – While we would like to think writing is a solitary exercise, great books are a product of a community of people, committed to one goal—releasing the best possible work. As an author, I can only take a project so far. I need multiple sets of eyes on my manuscript making sure what I think I’m saying, I actually say. The more scrutiny a manuscript undergoes, the better the book will be.

Develop a relationship with your editor – If at all possible, get to know your editor and allow them to get to know you. The more you have a connection, the more you will understand each other, and the more you will work intuitively together. Developing a good working relationship with your editor fosters trust—trust of what you envision the manuscript to be and trust that the editor wants the manuscript to be the very best it can be. This can be one of the most amazing gifts.

Be thick-skinned—and tenderhearted – Submitting your “baby” for critique is never an easy thing. As you venture into the editorial process, be open to the insight, critique, and conviction of your editor. Be open to the possibility that they might be right in their assessment. Push back when you feel strongly about a point or a turn of phrase. Try as best as you can to detach your emotions from the manuscript and let it stand on it’s own.

As you develop a strong relationship with your editor, listening to each other and building trust, you will find a true ally.

And that just might make all the difference in the world.


Also in this series:
Writing From the Heart and the Head
Reading to Write
Finding a Voice Amidst the Noise



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