How To Be A Client An Editor Wants To Work With

Author’s Note: These are all true experiences. I will never name names, but I’m not going to filter my honesty either. If something I say here offends you, then you probably don’t want to be a writer. 


Not every client I work with is a breeze, but a small percentage are truly fabulous (One I had this week was wonderful.). There has been a tiny percentage over the last 20 years that have enraged me with their constant inquiries, rude comments, whining, tantrums, or those who simply do not understand the process.

It’s 2015, so I think it’s important for writers, especially new writers seeking publication by any means, to understand that editors are human beings. We have families, we have things that go wrong in our lives, and no matter how much we may love what we do, we’re just like everyone else. We have bills to pay, we have responsibilities, children to raise, meals to prepare, animals to care for, homes to clean, clothes that have to be washed, etc. Why would you treat your editor as a lower life form and expect them to respond well to you? I wouldn’t treat a stranger the way some people treat their editors, so here are a few things I feel are crucial information for you to have.

If you’re about to work with an editor or are currently in the process, even for the smallest project, here are some surefire ways to be a good client and not make said editor contemplate a move to a Brazilian rainforest (Another good goal is not to end up on a list of clients they’ll refuse to do business with in the future.)

#1- Don’t call or e-mail within 15 minutes of sending them your manuscript to ask if they’re finished. I JUST started. I’m on page three. Why are you asking if I’ve read the entire thing that you JUST sent to me? Precisely how does one get it into their head that a non-magical entity has just inhaled 100,000 words (or more) in 15 minutes?! It is annoying to the point of something more severe. Here, let me whip out my magic wand…  Don’t do it, and if you’re thinking about doing it, lock your phone in a drawer and change all of your passwords to stifle yourself.

A good editor will update you during the process, there is no need to nag. You may find yourself so excited that you can’t help but constantly send your editor messages, but eventually, even the best editor is going to lose their patience with repetitive questions. The only time it’s acceptable to keep track of them is, if by some strike of lightning, you never hear from them again, which happens to people on occasion. However, a person that responds to you and keeps you updated is working, and you probably aren’t their only job, so be patient. Take this from a person who is being nagged every few days by a client. If strangling were legal…  

#2- Don’t say rude, insensitive, inappropriate, idiotic shit. If an editor lets you know right away that they are dealing with any kind of emergency (We’re people, life/shit happens and it’s not always good.) decide whether or not you can hold out. If they are in the middle of the work, let them finish. Continuity is important. Hiring another editor to do what they’ve been working on is a headache because that person will only start from the beginning and make changes more suitable to their style, and that’s additional time, and money, being spent.

If they just started working and you’ve barely paid them, it’s okay to move on if need be, but don’t take hostility out on them or, if you agree that you can wait, don’t send them messages every few days, or weekly, to ask about the progress. Let them work. If I have to stop what I’m doing to answer your repetitive e-mails, I might not be pleasant, polite, or anywhere near the word “professional”. I might give you one word answers. If I respond three days later, that does not mean I was ignoring you. It means I was working. Don’t make assumptions. 

#3- Realize that every freelance editor does not have a team behind them and/or a slew of assistants. I’m a one-woman show. There are days I knock out 25,000 words in the editing and/or proofreading process and there are days I am only able to get through a few pages. The dirtier the manuscript, the more face time it requires.

#4- Read your work in advance before you submit it. You might even want to read it twice. Use spell check. Hell, use a grammatical tool so I don’t stare at the page flabbergasted by your complete and utter lack of knowledge regarding the use of the English language. “Did she actually write “ancestory” instead of “ancestry”? I think I’m having a stroke. (This happened to me Thursday.) That is not a typo (look at where each letter is on your keyboard), it’s someone trying to sound out a word and failing, miserably.   

#5- You may have a few self-published titles under your belt, but that doesn’t make you a writer. Yeah, I said it. Anyone can self-publish. If you don’t have an audience to sell to and a solid story, don’t make it out to be more than it is. There are some exceptions to this rule and they are people who have properly marketed themselves as a brand. I know a few of them and their decency measures up to the quality of their writing.

#6- You cannot self-promote anything that isn’t edited, clean, and ready to go. It’s childish and unprofessional, and it’s not going to work in your favor the second a prospective agent Googles you and finds your blatant self-promotion, for a book they may or may not want to buy, in places they probably don’t want to see it. They might like your chutzpah, because you will need those skills later on, but they’re not going to want unedited excerpts on every writing web-site from here to Calcutta. Know when to hold things close and even better, know when to keep your mouth shut. Unless something is a done deal contractually, zip it. Afterwards, I’d still refrain.

#7- Write what you know. If you’re choosing a place you have never been and will never visit, you’re not going to capture the essence of the most crucial things, and a local resident or someone who has been there is going to pick up on that immediately. There may be a lot of competition to write about things in major cities, but if you’ve actually made the statement that Johns Hopkins University and their respective Hospital are in New York City when it most certainly is not (Hello, have you ever heard of Baltimore, Maryland?! Unless I’ve had a recent lobotomy, they’re both still there.), I strongly recommend NOT making New York City your setting. (Yes, this happened. I had to walk away from the crazy because insistence does not make something truth.)

#8- Speak to me, on the phone & in e-mails, the same way you want to be spoken to. If you’re incessantly rude, eventually even the nicest person is going to snap. Ultimately, treat people the way you want to be treated, in all things.

#9- You may love your editor, but he/she is not your bestie. Unless we’re genuine friends outside of work, I cannot take time to counsel you on your marriage, friendships, parents, or children. Not when you constantly ask me “Is it done yet?” It’s NOT a piece of chicken.

#10- An editor who knows his or her shit is going to push you to be better. We are going to tell you to re-write, revise, and altogether tell a better story. It’s our job to dissect what you’ve written and help you make it into a cohesive, readable body of work. Telling you it’s the most fabulous thing I’ve ever read when it is not and kissing your ass for writing it “in three months” is NOT in my job description. I can tell when something took no time at all.

#11- There is a relatively long list of words I will cut out of a manuscript the second I see them in an overly repetitive fashion. “Very”, “Awesome”, “Seriously”, “Really” “Totally”, “Umm”, “Just” “Ya” as opposed to “Yeah”, are merely a few. The deal-breaker is “Alright”. I flip my lid every time I see it and you’re out there calling yourself a writer. Don’t insult me, I’ve been writing for 28 years and I’m almost positive I have always known that “all right” is two fucking words, not a creative amalgamation for the lazy. If ever I DID make errors like that, there was always someone present to correct me.

The occasional slip-up is not the end of the world, but if you regularly use the word “Y’all”, or any variation thereof, please exit stage door left so I don’t throw something. I realize it’s a part of some people’s daily vernacular, but if you’ve written it into a book that does not take place south of the Mason-Dixon line, I’m cutting it.

#12- If you want five hundred pages edited in 1-3 days, you’re either looking to hire a machine or highly intelligent zoo animals. Let me know how that works out for you. (This is a regular request. These are the same people who think this level of editing shouldn’t cost more than $30 U.S., not Canadian. I would rather starve for a week than do that much work for so little money. That’s not even my current hourly rate!)

The very best editor for you is someone you have fostered some sort of professional, communicative relationship with, maybe even someone you know who edits and who you have come to respect, but it’s not the person you picked out of a line-up as the cheapest person for the job. Unfortunately, sometimes you get what you pay for and other times you find someone amazing. It’s the luck of the draw.

At the end of the day, I do not have all the answers. I have 95% of them, but not all of them. 😉

copyright © 2015 by Lisa Marino & Blackbird Serenity LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.


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