You finally sent in that proposal for the book you wanted to write. The publishers were interested and asked to see more. Now, months after you finally finished writing and sent them the completed manuscript, your dream has come true – you’ve been given a publishing contract! The hard part is all over!Not really. Meet your editors, those nit-picking people who will correct your grammar, catch odd phrasings, restructure chapters (maybe even reorganize the whole book) and, at least once, completely misinterpret what you meant to say.One of the most stressful parts about publishing a book is working with those people, strangers really, who are going to make changes to your manuscript. From the editor who reads and accepts your manuscript, and then asks for radical changes in the formatting and flow, to the copy editor who insists that using the word ‘manipulate’ will immediately trigger a negative feeling in the reader; these people will have a great deal of input into how well your manuscript presents itself to your audience.Here are a few guidelines that will help you build a good relationship with your editor:
  1. Be polite. Every editor I know can tell stories of rudeness from authors, and in some publishing houses this can have a negative impact on future acquisitions.
  2. Be professional and treat everyone you encounter with respect.
  3. Use your full name and refer to your manuscript when communicating with editors, at least at first. Your project is likely not the only one they are working on.
  4. Be on time or early with every deadline. You may be able to negotiate a small delay, but your reason must be impeccable. Asking for an extension after the deadline has passed in never acceptable, and can cost you the publication (read your contract).
  5. Thank the editors for their input and welcome their critical review. Their job is to make your book accessible and popular, let them do it. Good writing takes time, and many revisions.
  6. Submit work that is aesthetically pleasing. That means no typos, no passive voice, and a clarity of thinking in a distinctive voice. A quote ascribed to Truman Capote says it well: “Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade just as painting does, or music. If you are born knowing them, fine. If not, learn them. Then rearrange the rules to suit yourself.” Knowing the rules and changing them to suit your purpose is the essence of the distinctive voice. Similarly, keeping your prose simple and direct will allow the reader to understand you more easily.
  7. Include references wherever appropriate, and you may want to include a list of index topics. Check your facts, and be prepared to prove their veracity.
  8. Get feedback from critical readers throughout the editorial process. ‘Critical’ does not mean a reader who says ‘this is great!’ A critical reader is one who instead says ‘the list of sources for benzoin was useful, but you didn’t include one for asafoetida’ or ‘you seem to be making a good point about Atlanteans being blond, but I’m not sure you supported your argument sufficiently.’ You don’t want the person deciding whether or not to buy your manuscript to be confused by your writing, and a good read-through by a critical reader can help catch these issues in time.
  9. Don’t send anything that isn’t completely finished; works in progress are usually seen as a waste of time.
  10. If you disagree with a change/edit talk it over with the editor. Don’t presume they should ‘know better,’ are ‘out to sabotage your work,’ or will immediately agree/disagree with you.  Be civil, but specific and have a conversation about the issue.
  11. Don’t presume that the editor knows more than you about the subject you have written about. They know the market, and perhaps more about styles and grammar, but you are the expert on the topic. Give yourself permission to be the expert and see your interaction with the editor as one of professionals interacting.
While it’s true that publishing a book can be a long, scary, and difficult experience, working with an editor can be both fun and rewarding. If you are generous and understanding with your editors and yourself, you will do well and be remembered in a positive way when you submit your next manuscript. Lisa Mc Sherry is the author of The Virtual Pagan (Red Wheel/Weiser, 2002), Magickal Connections: Creating a Healthy and Lasting Spiritual Group (New Page, 2007) and contributing author in two anthologies (Magic on the Edge and TechnoMagick, both forthcoming). Her work can be found in The Beltane Papers, SageWoman, PanGaia, and online (at www.cybercoven.org and www.thevirtualpagan.org).
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