KOK Edit: Your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM)
KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) Katharine O'Moore Klopf

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

How to Start Off Right with Authors

For an author, being edited can feel intrusive. But you, as the editor, can take some preventive actions early on to build a trust-filled author–editor relationship. For 27 years now, I've worked both through publishers and directly with authors, and these practices have always worked for me. I list them here in no particular order:

  • Find something—anything legitimate—to praise in the manuscript. This could be a particularly wonderful sentence, a vivid depiction of a scene, or a piece of humor that the author handled well. This lets the author know that the editor is on his or her side.

  • Make sure that all queries are worded respectfully. Don't grovel or explain things to death, but don't write the equivalent of "Good grief! How can you not have seen that ridiculous dangling modifier?!"

  • Don't use editing jargon that the author may not be familiar with. Explain any terms, such as callout or extract or folio, that you'd normally use among other editors without explanation.

  • Include a cover note to the author when you return the edited manuscript to the publisher, explaining any overall issues. (If you are working directly with the author, then of course this cover note goes directly to the author.) Also describe the level of editing you did at the publisher's request; describe style manual use briefly.

  • Request that when it's time for the author to review edits, the publisher send the author a copy of the style sheet that you created, so that the author can have documentation of why you made the style choices you did. (Again, if you're working directly with the author, this document goes to the author. Take some time to explain the purpose of style sheets and how they work.)

  • Repeat the mantra "It's not my book. It's not my book. It's not my book." It's the author's book, so you have to get into the author's head so that your edits reflect not your voice but the author's. Do not trample the author's voice.

  • Follow the Copyeditor’s Golden Rule: Edit others as you would want to be edited.

  • Double-check unique spellings and unfamiliar terms, such as invented words used in fantasy fiction or terms of art in scholarly manuscripts, with the author or publisher.

  • Be clear in your queries. Word them in such a way to get your questions answered. In other words, don't query by writing, "author: Unclear. Please fix."

  • At the beginning of the manuscript—but after you've finished editing—insert a query that's really a note thanking the author for the privilege of reading his or her work. This is not fawning; it is showing respect.

  • If you communicate directly with the author, do not respond in kind to any temper tantrums. Let the author have his or her say, and then respond calmly, truthfully, and respectfully.

Have you found additional practices that enhance your relationships with authors? Please share them in the comments. You can learn more about working with authors here.


Matt said...

Great tips and I look forward to reading more from the editor's perspective. As an author, I find these sorts of resources exceedingly helpful so I know what to expect when I seek a capable editor.

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

Matt, I always like hearing from authors. I'm glad you stopped by.

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