4 Tips for Your First Time Working With an Editor


Let’s be honest. When you start working with an editor for the first time, it can feel a little scary.

But when you know what to expect, it becomes less scary and more accessible—and maybe even exciting.

So let’s demystify what it’s like to work with an editor with four top tips to help you make the most of your work together.

The Scary Next Step After Finishing Your First Draft

It’s a scary thing to share your manuscript, this project that you’ve worked so hard on, with a stranger that you met on the internet (because that’s probably how you met your editor).

It’s also scary to engage in a part of the book production process that’s new to you. When you’re just getting started writing, and when you’re working on the first draft, you can pretty much intuit your next steps on your own. You have an idea, you pick up a pen or open a new document on your computer, and you start writing until you get to the end.

But after you finish the first draft, the process is a lot less clear, and a lot more difficult to do entirely on your own. And whether you decide to hire an editor after draft one or after draft five, at some point, you reach a junction where your only logical next step is to involve other people in your book creation process.

And it’s scary thing to work with a professional in a field that’s new to you, where you don’t know what the process is or what the etiquette is or what’s expected of you or what you can expect from someone you’re working with.

All that on top of the fact that you’re sharing your precious creation with a stranger you met on the internet!

After you’ve gone through this process a few times, it’s going to feel old hat. The vulnerability of sharing your work for feedback will probably always be there, but the process itself won’t be a confusing, scary mystery.

But if you’ve never worked with an editor before, you’re not there yet. It might still feel like a confusing, scary mystery.

So let’s demystify it, shall we?

How to Find and Work With Your Editor

In today’s episode, I want to make the process of working with an editor feel a little less scary and a little more accessible.

I’m going to share four tips to help you know what to expect and how to make the most of your work with your editor. We’ll cover some do’s and don’ts, some etiquette around editing, and what you can do to make your work with your editor a pleasant and rewarding process for you both.

This is actually the second part of a two-episode series on how to work with an editor.

In the first episode, I shared four tips to help you find the right editor for your book. So if you haven’t found an editor yet, but you’re thinking you’d like to work with one, I recommend you head back to that article to help you select a great editor for your book.

And once you’ve found your editor and you’ve vetted them and you’ve learned what their editing process will look like and you’ve decided to work with them, then come back to these tips to make the most of that work together.

If I’m the Right Editor for Your Book . . .

And before we get into the tips, I’ll also add that of course, I myself am an editor! And I do work with one-on-one clients in the ways that I’m going to be describing in this episode.

My goal in this episode is to give you a guide, a kind of handbook for how to work with just about any developmental editor (or really, any type of editor). I’m going to cover some baseline expectations that will apply to pretty much any editor you work with.

Now, if you’ve been listening to Your Next Draft and thinking, “I really love what Alice has to say about story and I’d love to get her feedback on my manuscript,” well, the good news is, I do work one-on-one with writers. And if you think I’m a great fit for your story, I’d love to hear from you.

Click here to check out my manuscript wishlist and the types of books that I’m a really great fit for.

And if you like what you see, click here to tell me about your book.

That’s the first step to work with me: fill out the form on that page to tell me about your book, and we’ll connect to talk about whether we’re a good fit and what it would look like to work together.

4 Dos and Don’ts for Working With Your Editor

That said, regardless of whether I’m the best fit for your book or another editor is the best fit, the four tips I have for you in this episode are going to help you make the most of any editing relationship so you can get the most out of professional editing on your book.

Ready for the tips? Let’s dive in.

1. DON’T edit your manuscript while you’re waiting for your editor’s feedback.

Once you’ve sent your manuscript to your editor . . . wait.

Don’t edit your manuscript while you’re waiting for their feedback. Put the manuscript down and step away. Just wait.

Your editor is preparing their best feedback based on the version of the manuscript they have. You want that version to be fully up-to-date so that their feedback is fully relevant.

It’s not helpful to either of you if, for instance, your editor prepares feedback on the climax of your book, and while you’re waiting, you change the climax, so then when they share their feedback, it doesn’t match your story.

It’s also not a good practice to send your editor updated versions of your manuscript while your editor is working on the project. If your editor is midway through reading your manuscript, and you send them a new version, they’d have to start over again from the beginning in order to give you feedback on all the changes. That would be a huge delay, and I don’t know of any editors who would be willing to do that.

The exception here is: if you know that you’re sending your manuscript to your editor ahead of time and you know they aren’t starting work on it right away, you can check with them to see if you can send them an updated version before they start working.

I’ve done this with clients sometimes. A writer might send me a manuscript a couple weeks or a month before I actually start reading it. And I’ll typically say, “Just so you know, I’ll be starting work on this on X date. So if you have any changes you want to make between now and then, feel free to do that and send me the updated version.”

Sometimes, writers take me up on that, and they keep working on their manuscripts right up until the day I start editing. And sometimes, they decide to go ahead and put their manuscript down and work on other things in the meantime.

If you’re not sure if your editor has started working on your manuscript yet, and you’ve thought of some changes you’d like to make, it’s totally reasonable to email them and ask. You can say something like, “Hey! I’m curious—have you started reading my manuscript yet? If not, I’d like to make a couple changes and then send you a fresh version before you start. If you have, I won’t make any changes, and I’ll look forward to your feedback!”

And if they have started, accept that gracefully, and don’t touch your manuscript. You can start a list of all your ideas for what you’d like to do in your story next, and then you can discuss those with your editor when they’re ready with their feedback. Just don’t make changes to the manuscript itself!

The big truth here is, book publishing is a waiting game. There are going to be so many points throughout your author career where you’ll pass some part of this project off to someone else, and it will be entirely out of your hands, and your task will be to wait for days or weeks or months while someone else does their part. So this is something to get used to and make peace with.

Which brings me to tip number two:

2. DO work on other parts of your author career while you wait.

Yes, you’ve put your manuscript down and you’re not allowing yourself to make any changes to it while you wait.

But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do.

On the contrary—there is so much you can do while you wait.

A successful author career involves so much more than simply writing a great book. That’s the heart of it, and it’s essential, of course. But that alone will not lead you to authorial success.

Writers tend to love the writing process. They range from loving the editing process just as much to grudgingly accepting it as an unavoidable part.

But I can count on one hand the number of writers I’ve met who love the rest of the tasks involved in a thriving author career. Especially marketing. Almost no one likes marketing.

The thing is, all the non-writing parts of your author career have to happen at some point if you want your books to reach your readers. Yes, even marketing.

And the waiting time in between sending your manuscript to your editor and getting your editor’s feedback is the perfect time to make progress on all those non-writing tasks. Yes, even marketing.

Yes, I’m going to keep saying it, because no one wants to hear it. Yes, even marketing.

12 Ways to Build Your Author Career While You’re Waiting for Your Editor’s Feedback

Here are a dozen things you can do while you’re waiting for your editor’s feedback:

  1. Create a social media profile for yourself as an author.
  2. Create an author website.
  3. Create an email newsletter to send to your readers.
  4. Start building an email list of readers.
  5. Write a short story that you can give to readers for free as a lead magnet to attract readers.
  6. Write several short stories and try entering them into writing contests or submitting them for publication in anthologies or literary magazines.
  7. Network with other authors at writing conferences and events.
  8. Read books on writing craft.
  9. Study books that are similar to yours to figure out how to emulate them in your writing.
  10. Research avenues to publication and start evaluating your options and what you’d like to do. Traditional publishing? Indie publishing? Small press? Hybrid? Something else?
  11. Start gathering a list of comps, comparative titles, which you’ll need to know in order to position your book within the marketplace.
  12. Write a draft of your query letter, if you want to query agents, or your back cover book description, if you want to self-publish.

This is a non-exhaustive list. I could keep going. There are so many things you can do while you’re waiting for your editor’s feedback that don’t involve looking at your manuscript at all.

Hopefully there are a few things on that list that don’t make you want to curl up in a ball and hide from the publishing world. If that list does make you cringe, though, here’s the good news:

The advantage of working on these things in between drafts, while you’re waiting for your editor, is that you know you have an endpoint when you’ll be coming back to your book.

This won’t be your main focus forever. This will be your main focus for four weeks, while you wait for your feedback.

Then, your editor will reach out and tell you your feedback is ready, and you’ll get to dive back into your story, the space where your writing is fun and inspiring and exciting.

And if you focus on these non-writing tasks for just a few weeks every few months, in between each draft, you’ll be tackling the enormous and scary project of marketing in baby steps, over a long period of time.

That way, you won’t be trying to create an entire marketing strategy from scratch when your book is finished and ready to go. And trust me, no one wants that.

So when you send your manuscript to your editor, close out of the document, put it down, and challenge yourself not to touch it until your editor sends you their feedback. Make peace with the wait. And embrace the built-in pause from your editing process as an opportunity to make progress on the less exciting, but equally important areas of your author career.

3. DO ask follow-up questions.

All right, so we’ve covered what to do and what not to do while you’re waiting for your editor’s feedback.

You wait patiently. You make progress in other areas of your author career. And then your editor reaches out and says, good news! Your feedback is ready!

What then?

Well, first, your editor is going to deliver your feedback according to the structure you established together when you first agreed on your editing package.

For my clients, this typically means we’re going to get on one or more Zoom calls to talk through my feedback and their ideas. For other editors, this might mean you get feedback in the form of calls, an editorial letter, in-line notes, or other deliverables.

Start by listening or reading through all the feedback you get. Just take a look around at what your editor has shared with you.

Hopefully you can spot pretty quickly some ideas from your editor that make you go, “Ah yes, that makes sense.” Or even, “Wow, yes! That’s going to address a problem I was concerned about!”

But you might also feel a little overwhelmed by it all. Between the intensity of changes that your editor might suggest and the sheer volume of feedback, it’s easy to get overwhelmed here.

So if you see all your editor’s feedback and think, “holy cow, this is a lot, and I don’t know what to do with all this,” don’t worry. This is normal. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer. It just means that getting feedback can be a lot.

When I give feedback, I do my best to make that experience as digestible and approachable as possible. I’ll point out where to start to dig into all my suggestions. I’ll include actionable next steps so you know what to do next. And I sometimes even point out which areas of feedback to focus on last, or skip for a while, if the feedback is overwhelming.

That said, we editors can do our best to make our feedback approachable and digestible, and writers can still get overwhelmed and confused by it all!

So tip number three for working with your editor is to ask follow-up questions.

Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for more clarification about things you don’t understand, or guidance on what steps you should take next once you’ve looked through all the feedback.

Editors will often specify what kind of support they offer after they deliver your feedback. There might be unlimited email support, or email support for a couple weeks after delivery. There might be the option for a follow-up call.

The principle I like to keep in mind, though, is: if you’re stuck, that’s the perfect time to reach out to an editor.

Your editor will be happy to answer your questions and clarify your edit. And they’ll let you know if the questions are big enough to merit a new editing engagement.

Above all, we editors do not want to leave you confused and overwhelmed at the end of your edit. We want you to walk away with confidence and clarity, knowing exactly what to do next to make your manuscript even better.

So don’t be afraid to reach out and ask questions!

Which brings me to the final tip for working with your editor:

4. DON’T be afraid. Your editor is on your side!

Don’t be afraid.

I know it can be a frightening experience to share your manuscript with someone else. Especially if it’s your first time working with an editor. Especially if your editor is a stranger you met on the internet (which, let’s be honest, is almost always going to be the case).

But if you have vetted your editor and found a good fit, you’re in safe hands and your editor is on your side.

And even when they give you feedback on things that aren’t working in your story, or when they recommend that you change some things in your story, know that they are in this creative process with you and that you have a shared goal for your book.

Your editor wants you to be successful. We want your story to be successful. We want to help you and support you. We want your story to be the best it can be. And we want to facilitate that process and make it easier for you to accomplish your goals.

We’re on your side. We’re not against you. We’re not here to condemn your story or shut you down. We’re here to collaborate with you, support you, and help you achieve your goals for your writing.

We’re so excited to see what your manuscript can become. And we’re honored to be part of your creative journey.

There’s no fear here, only support as we pursue a shared goal together.

Of course, the caveat for that sense of safety is that first, you’ll need to find a good fit editor. If you’re not sure how to do that, head back to this article and check out my four tips to find the right editor for you and your book.

And of course, if you think I might be that editor for you, feel free to reach out! Click here and fill out the form to tell me about your book.

4 Best Practices for Editing Etiquette

And there you have it: my top four tips for how to work with a developmental editor, especially if you’ve never worked with an editor before.

Here they are again:

  1. DON’T edit your manuscript while you’re waiting for your editor’s feedback. Send them your materials, then wait for them to work their magic on your story. Do not make changes while you wait.
  2. Instead, work on other parts of your author career. Marketing is a great thing to work on during the natural breaks between drafts.
  3. When you receive your editor’s feedback, feel free to ask follow-up questions. Your editor wants you to move forward with confidence, not confusion, so ask away!
  4. And finally, don’t be afraid. Your editor is on your side. We are working towards your success together. And we are honored to be a part of your process.

Get Excited for the Joy of Editing

I hope all those tips help demystify the experience of working with an editor just a little bit so that you feel more excited and more confident about taking this really cool step in your book creation process.

I hope this helps you make the most of the work that you do with the editor who is a great fit for you and your book.

And if you’d like to see if I might be that editor who’s a great fit for you in your book, then check out my manuscript wishlist and see what kinds of books I’m a great fit for. And then reach out and tell me about your book!

I am so excited for you to discover how delightfully rewarding it can be to work with an editor who’s a wonderful creative partner for you and your story. And I’m cheering you on as you work with your editor to turn that story into an amazing published book.

Find Out How to Edit Your Novel

Editing your book doesn't have to be overwhelming. Enter your email, and I'll send you my free, 10-step guide to editing a book.

Awesome! Now go check your email for your guide!