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Knowledge Centre

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How Do I Work Well
with a Fiction Editor ?

For many editors, the chance to form close working relationships with novelists is one of their major sources of job satisfaction.

It’s a partnership founded on mutual respect and the common goal of getting the book into the best possible shape, thereby maximising its chances of success.

Editors come in different shapes and sizes and so it’s crucial you hire the right one for you and your novel.

Here are a few quick suggestions on making your choice.


Get the genre right

Most editors have their own particular areas of expertise – the kinds of books they enjoy working on and with which they may have built up a wealth of experience over the years. In the case of fiction, for example, many editors will specialise in specific genres such as crime, romance, historical and so on.

Thanks to their experience they may well have acquired an instinctive understanding of their preferred genres, readers’ expectations and a sound appreciation of what works for such novels – and what doesn’t.

In the highly competitive world of book publishing any edge you can get is vital and so working with a fiction editor with in-depth knowledge of this kind can be invaluable.


How can I find a fiction editor for my novel?

A good place to start is your country’s professional body for editors. In the UK this is the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP). The CIEP's website features a directory of its two highest membership categories – professional and advanced professional. You can narrow your search down to editors specialising in your genre and compare potential candidates.


Each editor’s entry will include details of their preferred area as well as their training and experience.

Crucially, all members of the institute follow its codes of practice, providing you with a guarantee of their integrity.


How should I approach a fiction editor?

Use the contact details in the directory to approach likely candidates. It’s best to contact a number of editors so that you can compare their details to be sure you’re choosing the right one for your novel. As well as their technical abilities, this process will also give you the chance to get a feel for whether you’re on the same wavelength and if you would enjoy working with them.

What will a fiction editor ask me about my novel?

When you contact an editor they are likely to have a number of questions for you. These can include:

  • What editorial process are you looking for? (e.g. copyediting, proofreading)

  • The genre

  • Word count

  • Deadline

  • Whether you are planning to self-publish your novel or send it to an agent/ publisher


Rest assured this is not a case of idle curiosity but crucial to helping the fiction editor decide if they are the right person for you in terms of both their expertise and availability.


Why does the fiction editor want to see a sample of my novel?

Many editors ask prospective clients to send them a sample of their novel. This isn’t anything to worry about and is simply a way of ensuring that you’re quoted a fair price for your project. While the word count of your book will play an important role in determining the editor’s fee, there is more to bear in mind.

An important issue is the amount of time the editor will need to work on your novel. Two books of identical length may take significantly different amounts of time to copyedit; for example, if one author has a firm grasp of grammar while the other has made lots of errors that need to be corrected.

Reading a sample piece of text will enable the fiction editor to assess how long the project will take and quote an appropriate price.

A lot of editors will ask you to choose a random section of text (perhaps around 500 words) from the middle of your book so that it’s as representative as possible of the manuscript as a whole.


Keeping in touch with your fiction editor

As mentioned, it’s important that you feel comfortable with your editor from the outset if you’re going to build an effective working partnership. To this end it can be useful to have a chat over the phone with your potential choices before making a final decision.

From then on, though, most fiction editors prefer to keep in touch via email; this tends to be more time efficient for both editor and author and also allows for clear communication with no room for misunderstanding or misinterpretation.

At the outset, it’s crucial that both you and your editor have a shared understanding of the nature of the project including the level of editing that will take place, the timeframe, fee and payment terms. Having all this down in black and white protects the interests of both of you and provides a solid foundation for the project.

Likewise it’s a good idea for the editor to supply all their feedback to you in writing.


In the case of line editing, copyediting and proofreading, the editor will make the appropriate amends and comments on your file.


With development editing, many editors will make notes on the file as they go along and complement this with an editorial report to encapsulate their views on your work and their suggested revisions. Sending this report in written form enables them to provide comprehensive, well-structured comments, illustrated with examples from your text and including links to webpages that contain helpful information. Importantly, this written critique will also provide you with a valuable permanent resource to help you with your future writing.  


Working well with a fiction editor: Conclusion

It is worth taking the time to find out as much about potential editors as you can. Identifying the right individual for your novel and building up a strong relationship with them could set you on the path to success, not just with this novel but with many more in the future!

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