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Authors and Editors

"An author going through the [editing] process for the first time may be somewhat startled at first to see anywhere from a few to many dozens of query flyers attached to the manuscript. One author wrote saying that when he saw how many flyers the copy editor had attached to his manuscript, he wanted to hire a hit man. But as any author who has had good past experiences with copy editors will be quick to point out, there is reason to feel reassured by those pink or yellow or blue slips of paper. They are a sign that the manuscript has been read closely and with care. (The author who initially wanted to hire a hit man confessed that after he had read through his copy editor's queries, he changed his mind. 'I think I'm in love,' he concluded.)"

—Gypsy da Silva, "The Copy Editor and the Author," in Gerald Gross, ed., Editors on Editing: What Writers Need to Know about What Editors Do, 3rd ed., 143-152 (New York: Grove Press, 1993) (quote on 148)

Working with Your Editor: Three Tips on Getting the Most out of the Editorial Process
Copyright © 2008 Casco Bay Literary Services

If authors could be a fly on the wall of publishing companies, they might be surprised at what they overhear. A common refrain is that authors often seem to engage in self-sabotage in precisely that phase of a book project that has perhaps the greatest potential to make or break the project: the publishing phase. Three simple steps will help you avoid this self-sabotage and get the most out of the editorial process.

1. Be polite and professional.

This shouldn't have to be said, but publishing is a business like any other, and professional conduct is likely to serve you better than rudeness or uncooperativeness. University professors and others in fields where "in-your-face" behavior is common should be aware that this behavior is less common and less tolerated in the publishing field.

Editors are sometimes shocked by the rudeness and uncooperativeness of authors, and equally shocked that they would alienate editors equipped to make or break their book projects. A lot can go wrong—or right—in those final months of a project's history.

2. Follow the publisher's guidelines and instructions.

In some cases, failure to follow directions can have negative repercussions for the quality of your project. For example, if you format your manuscript incorrectly, or your notes and references are incomplete and in the wrong style, or your tables and figures don't meet the publisher's standards, there may not be enough time in the fast-paced production process to correct the problems.

It's not a great idea to get off on a bad footing with the editorial staff, because they're the last major line of defense before your book is printed. If your copyeditor is less than enthusiastic about working with you—whether because you've refused to follow the publisher's guidelines, are uncooperative about answering queries, or balk at removing sexism and racism from the manuscript—they may not be willing to go beyond the call of duty to rescue you from the factual errors you've overlooked in your manuscript. But if they're enthusiastic about working with you and about your book, they may not hesitate to do extensive Internet research or make that extra trip to the library to to ferret out errors, without pay if necessary. This can make the difference between a successful book and one that brings you professional or personal embarrassment.

3. Answer all queries carefully and thoroughly.

If you ignore queries, someone will have to query you again, possibly leading to a delay in the production schedule. This delay can be problematic from your standpoint, if for example the publisher is trying to bring your book out in time for a major conference or other significant event. Alternatively, the editor or typesetter may have to guess at the answers to the queries, which could produce results you're unhappy with.

If you don't understand the reasons for queries or find them superfluous, resist the impulse to fire off a diatribe. People in the publishing field are often very well read and broadly educated, and someone may be trying to ferret out some problem in your manuscript that you haven't detected. Don't assume that because editors have degrees in English and not in your technical field, they won't be able to uncover major factual errors. Even if they don't understand the ins and outs of the technical material—say, complex math equations—those who've edited dozens of books in a field often have a "sixth sense" for when something is wrong.

I once read an article about an editor whose superb editing resulted in a Pulitzer Prize for an author. While this may be an extreme case, editing has the potential to significantly improve most manuscripts. To get the most out of the process and avoid any self-sabotage, it's to your advantage as an author to be professional and cooperative in interacting with the editor and other publishing staff.


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Last updated February 3, 2008 • Copyright © 2008 Casco Bay Literary Services. All rights reserved.