When you reach out to an editor, they’ll have a lot of questions. These questions are designed to help them understand your book, your goals, and how an editor can help.
In fact, answering these questions even before you reach out can bring you a lot of clarity about your book and what you need. Can you answer these eight questions an editor will ask?
I’m a book editor, which means I spend a lot of time talking with writers. In fact, that’s my favorite thing to do.
And writers reach out a lot to tell me about their books. They’re interested in getting some support in their writing and editing, and so they send me an email, tell me about their book and where they’re stuck, and ask if I can help.
(You can do this too, by the way. If you click here, you’ll find my email address and a few key pieces of information to send me when you reach out.)
And when writers reach out, the first thing I want to do is find out more: more about their book, more about their goals, more about their challenges, and more about how I can help.
So I get on a call and I ask a lot of questions.
And in this article, I’m going to share some of those questions with you.
8 Questions an Editor Will Ask About Your Novel
The questions I ask are helpful for me, definitely.
But I think they’ll also be helpful for you. You can answer them right now, whether you’re working with an editor or not, and you’ll get a lot of clarity about your book and your process and where to go next.
Plus, if you decide to work with an editor—whether that editor is me or someone else—that editor will almost certainly ask you some version of these questions.
If you have answers ready, you’ll be that much more prepared to answer with confidence and connect with an editor who’s a great fit for you and your book.
So regardless of whether you’re currently working with an editor, you want to work with an editor, or you’re planning to self-edit your book to perfection, I encourage you to answer the following eight questions.
And to make that super easy for you, I’ve actually put them all into an editable worksheet that you can fill out. They’re already typed out for you; you just write your answers in.
Just fill out the form below and I’ll send you the worksheet:
Go ahead and grab that worksheet now so you have it in front of you. Then, fill it out as I go through each question.
Got your worksheet? Let’s dive in.
1. What Genre Is Your Book?
Now, this is a big question, and it could honestly be its own entire article. I’m sure it will be at some point.
But right now, I want to give you just a sort of simple working definition of genre:
Genre is a way to categorize the type of story you’re writing based on the plot, stakes, characters, setting, style, and more.
In other words, genre is a way of quickly identifying what type of story you’re writing. And it helps agents, editors, publishers, and readers quickly group similar stories together to make them easier for everyone to find what they’re looking for.
Now, I want you to think about this question in two ways.
The first way is your marketing genre. This is where your book would go on the shelves of Barnes and Noble.
Think about the shelf labels, terms like:
- Historical fiction
- General fiction
- Literary fiction
- Young adult fiction
You can find shelves for all of these in the bookstore. They tell you things about the books: what their setting will be like. What kinds of characters they’ll have. How literary their language and writing style will be.
What these labels do not tell you is what the plot will be.
You’ll find a lot of love stories on the romance shelf. But you will also find love stories, books where two characters meet, fall in love, break up, and get back together, on every other shelf I mentioned.
There are sci-fi love stories and fantasy love stories and historical fiction love stories and literary fiction love stories and young adult love stories.
So this is the second way I want you to think about your genre:
What is at stake? What is the plot?
Here are terms you can use to describe the plot of your story, no matter which shelf it goes on at the bookstore:
Take some time to think about each of those terms and see which one best fits your story.
What’s at stake in your story? What’s the conflict really about?
Write down anything that comes to mind.
You don’t have to get it exactly right here, especially if this is your first time asking this question.
But anything you can identify about your book’s genre will be really helpful when it comes time to reach out to an editor.
And it will help you right now, whether you’re working with an editor or not, because it will help you get clarity on what kinds of conflict you should add to your story, and what kinds of resources you should seek out to help you write it.
2. What Is the Age of Your Audience?
Are you writing a children’s book for children 8 years old or younger? (If you are, you’ll want to get even more specific than that; books for three year olds are very different from books for six year olds.)
Are you writing a middle grade novel for children ages 8 to 12?
Are you writing a young adult novel for kids and teens ages 12 to 18?
Are you writing a new adult novel for people of ages 18 to 25?
Are you writing an adult novel for adults ages 18 and up?
This is an important question to answer because it will determine all kinds of things, like the word count of your book, the ages of your characters, and the intensity of the content in your book.
For instance, a middle grade novel won’t include graphic violence, but a new adult novel might get pretty steamy.
3. What Is Your Goal for This Book?
This is a really important question, and the answer from one writer to another can vary wildly. When I ask writers about their goal, I’m asking about two things:
First, what publishing route are you aiming for?
Do you want to land an agent and a publishing deal and get traditionally published?
Are you aiming to self-publish your book and establish yourself as a successful indie author?
Or maybe neither of those things is your goal, which brings me to the second part of this question:
What is important to you about this book? Why are you writing it, and what does success look like to you?
Maybe this is your breakout novel and you have a whole series planned and many more books besides.
Or maybe you’re writing a memoir of your life in order to pass your stories down to your grandkids. You want to produce a beautiful book and a well-told story, but you’re not trying to land an agent or even promote your book widely. If you can share your stories with your family in a form that they can cherish for a long time, that’s success for you.
All of these goals are fantastic. The important thing is just that you know what you’re aiming to do so that you can communicate that to other book professionals and find the right people to support you along the way.
So ask yourself: when it comes to the book you’re working on, what constitutes success for you?
4. What Is Another Book that Inspires You?
You write stories because you love to read stories.
That’s a bold assumption for me to make. But I bet it’s true. (I hope it’s true!)
And I also expect that there was one book, or a few books, that you read and thought, I want to do that.
I want to do what that author did. I want to make other readers feel the way I feel right now after reading that story. I want to capture that sense of adventure, those stakes, that excitement, that thrill. I want to do that.
Take a moment to think: what book inspires you? In particular, what book that’s similar to your book inspired you to write the book you’re working on right now?
Anytime you’re working on a big project, it is always helpful to be able to visualize exactly what your goal is.
As a writer, you can look to the books you love and find inspiration for what you’re aiming to create.
And as an editor, I LOVE to know what books inspired you to write the book you’re working on now.
A lot of times, when writers come to me, they don’t know exactly what their genre is. They have some ideas, but they’re not quite sure.
But when they tell me about the book that inspired them, I can get a really clear idea of what they’re trying to create. And once I know the goal we’re aiming towards, I can make sure that all the feedback I give them is tailored to that goal.
So it’s really helpful to know: what book inspires you to write the one you’re working on now?
5. What Is the Word Count of Your Book?
This is an essential question that you will be asked many times throughout your writing and publishing journey.
It impacts everything, from the likelihood that an agent will respond to your query letter to the width a cover designer will use for the spine of your book.
As an editor, I learn a lot from looking at a book’s word count.
I can see whether it’s within the typical word count range for your book’s genre and audience age.
I can see whether it’s likely that you’ll need to add some to your story or trim out some scenes, and how much wiggle room you’ll have either way.
And I can see roughly how long I’ll need to spend reading the full manuscript. I track the time I spend reading client books, so this is actually something I can calculate based on a manuscript’s word count.
I recommend that you look up word count guidelines for books of your genre and audience age, and keep them in mind as you write.
If you want to traditionally publish your book, a word count that’s too long or too short could be the factor that prevents you from landing a publishing deal.
And if you’re indie publishing, you don’t have to contend with the gatekeepers of traditional publishing, but you do still need to satisfy reader expectations. And readers know roughly how long they expect to spend on a book, and what makes them go, “Oh wow, that book is really long; I don’t have time to read that.”
So look up those numbers and keep them in mind as you write and edit.
6. What’s Your Journey with This Book?
What’s your journey so far with this book? What draft are you on, and have you worked with an editor or gotten feedback on your book?
This is a big question for me because as an editor, I’m usually not stepping in at the beginning of a writer’s process. Usually, they’re one draft or a few drafts in, and they’ve already done a lot of work on their book.
Even if they reach out to me for support as they write their first draft, they’ve usually spent a lot of time thinking about their story, planning their story, and maybe even writing a few pages.
So I know I’m stepping into the middle of a process that began way before me. And in order to give a writer the best feedback, the kind that gets them where they want to go while honoring where they’ve been before, I want to know what the process has been like so far.
So when you reach out to an editor, be prepared to share what draft you’re on, your experience working with an editor in the past, and what your ideal next steps are.
And if you’re not sure what draft you’re on, or you’re wondering what your next steps should be, I’d encourage you to go listen to episode three of Your Next Draft, which is called “How to Figure Out Which Draft You’re Writing: First Draft, Second Draft, and More.”
There’s even a handy-dandy quiz that goes along with that episode to help you figure out which draft you’re on. You can take that quiz here.
7. What’s the Premise of Your Book?
A premise is a one- or two-sentence summary of your entire book.
That’s right: you can tell your whole entire story in just one sentence. It might sound impossible. But I believe in you. You can do it.
One of your tasks as a writer throughout your author career will be to communicate quickly what your book is about and why people should care.
You’ll need to communicate that to agents and publishers if you want to get traditionally published.
You’ll definitely need to communicate it to readers, regardless of the publishing route you choose.
And when you’re working with anyone in the book industry, whether that’s an independent editor like me, a book cover designer, or even a fellow author, you’ll need to be able to quickly and clearly communicate what your book is about.
So being able to condense your story into a one- or two-sentence premise is a really important skill.
When I work with a writer, I get to know their story in a lot more depth. I talk it through with them for hours, or I study their outline, or I read the whole entire book.
But when I’m first connecting with a writer, I don’t have time to read their whole book, so I want to get a clear impression of the story quickly. And I love it when writers can send me a one- to two-sentence premise.
If they send me a paragraph or two, that works too. That fits nicely in an email, and so for my purposes as an editor, it works great.
That’s starting to head into short synopsis territory. A synopsis is similar to a premise, but longer; it summarizes a story in about 500 to 800 words. And it’s also great to have a synopsis of your book on hand.
So if you’re struggling to write your story as a single-sentence premise, maybe start off with writing a synopsis. Can you condense your story into a few paragraphs?
But even so, at some point, you’re going to need to communicate your story in just one line. So it’s worth practicing now to see if you can do it.
And here’s the other benefit of condensing your story into a single sentence: a one-sentence premise forces you to get really, really clear on what your story is truly about.
In that way, this actually becomes a writing and editing tool for you, as well. It’s your guide to what you’re really trying to do with your book.
When you’re not sure what comes next, or you feel like you’re writing in circles, you can always come back to your premise to remind yourself what your book is really about, and use that to help you determine what should happen next.
8. What Is Your Biggest Challenge Right Now?
Writers don’t come to me because their books are perfect. If they were perfect, they wouldn’t be hiring an editor; they’d be publishing the thing.
So when a writer reaches out, I know it’s because there’s something not quite right in their book just yet.
Usually, they have some idea of what they would like help with. Maybe it’s character development. Or maybe it’s a bunch of plot holes. Or maybe it’s figuring out whether their ending is really satisfying to their readers, and if it’s not, why not.
And I bet you have some sense of this for your book, too. You know where it’s working really, really well, and you know where you’re feeling a little insecure about it.
And I want to know that! I want to know where it is you’re hoping for help. When I know that going in, I can keep an eye out for the issues you’re seeing all the way through the editing process. And I can make sure that I address your top concerns in my feedback.
This is important for you to identify even if you’re not currently working with an editor, or even planning on working with an editor at all.
Why? Because when you can articulate what it is you’re struggling with, you can seek out resources that will help you with that exact problem.
You can ask other writers for feedback on it in a critique group. You can look up podcast episodes on it, either on Your Next Draft or on other writing podcasts. You can seek out craft books on it. You can ask for help.
The more you can articulate what’s challenging to you, the more equipped you are to go find solutions.
And if the solution is to hire an editor, then it will be really helpful to you and your editor when you can tell them exactly what you’d like help with.
Your Turn: Can You Answer All 8 Questions?
So there you have it: eight questions that I ask writers, and that I encourage you to answer for yourself. Here they are again:
- What genre is your book?
- What is the age of your audience?
- What is your goal for this book?
- What is another book that inspires you?
- What’s the word count of your book?
- What’s your journey so far with this book? What draft are you on, and have you worked with an editor or gotten feedback on your book?
- What’s the premise of your book?
- What is your biggest challenge with writing or editing your book right now?
And of course, if you haven’t yet, I recommend that you go grab the worksheet so you have an easy place to jot down answers to each of these questions.
I recommend treating that worksheet as a living document. You can return to it throughout your writing and editing process as a sort of guide for your book. And then you can have it on hand to easily reference when you reach out to an editor for support.
You are going to be so prepared, so ahead of the curve, when you reach out to an editor. You’ll have all the information you need about your book right at your fingertips. And when your editor responds with questions, you’ll have the answers ready to go.
I hope that filling out this worksheet brings you clarity about your book, your goals, your challenges, and how you define success.
And I hope that it helps build your confidence about working with an editor. We’re really not scary! But I know it can feel intimidating to reach out to an editor. So I hope that working through these questions and knowing you’re that much more prepared to answer an editor’s questions helps calm some nerves and build some confidence.
And if you’re feeling really inspired and ready to work with an editor, I’d love to hear about your book. Click here for all the details on how to reach out and work with me.
As always, I’m here cheering you on. Happy editing!