Being a good editor involves a lot more than being an expert on grammar and spelling. Good editors work with writers through every step of the writing process.
They may set an editorial calendar to help writers come up with relevant topics to write about. They reorganize and restructure documents so that a writer’s words flow and make an impact. Good editors also research and fact-check to make sure what a writer says makes sense and doesn’t lead to embarrassment.
All of this requires an open line of communication between writer and editor, as well as a great deal of respect on both ends. Here are five tips to help editors keep the writer-editor relationship strong.
1. Remember who the writer is
Editors might make a lot of changes to a document, but one thing they should never mess with is the writer’s voice. At the end of the editing process, the edited piece should still sound like the author wrote it.
This can be a challenge when working with a writer for the first time, whose voice you’re not yet familiar with. At this stage, you may be required to have a few in-person conversations and multiple rounds of editing to get the tone just right, but always remember whose name will be on the finished piece.
2. Know what you’re being asked to do
Some writers may want you to fix egregious errors only. Others might want substantial help with organization, consistency and style. It can be frustrating to be asked for a light copy edit when you know the piece needs so much more but, in many cases, this isn’t the editor’s call.
Know what’s expected of you before you start editing and deliver exactly what the writer asked for. Otherwise, you’ll have an unhappy writer who isn’t likely to work with you again.
3. Know your writer’s audience
Is the writer producing copy for print or the web? Are they writing for a broad audience or for experts in a certain field? How many people are likely to read the finished piece?
Learn everything you can about your writer’s audience. If you don’t think the writing makes sense for that audience, let your writer know and offer suggestions on how to fix things.
4. Meet your deadlines
This goes without saying. If you think you can’t meet a deadline, let the writer know immediately. But there should a very good reason. Maybe the scope of the project has changed completely or you’ve had a family emergency.
Even with a good reason, consistently missing deadlines is a great way to permanently damage the writer-editor relationship.
5. Communicate, communicate, communicate
Tips one through four mean you’ll need to be in close contact with your writer. Ask lots of questions along the way. For a novice writer, or one you’ve never worked with before, explain the changes you’re making so they make sense to the writer.
The right editor has the skills, expertise and finesse to make anyone’s words shine.
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