This Crucial Skill Will Help You Get on Your Book Editor’s Good Side

This Crucial Skill Will Help You Get on Your Book Editor’s Good Side

So far, this “Editorially Speaking” column has covered “How to Find a Book Editor You Can Trust,” “How Much You Should Expect to Pay an Editor,” and “How to Format a Book.”

What more could an editor ask for than to be trusted, paid, and handed a well-formatted manuscript?

Timeliness.

And sometimes, well, writers aren’t the timeliest of people. No offense.

I’ve been one of those writers, and I’m sure I will be again, but I try not to make a habit of it. As soon as you begin breaking deadlines on a routine basis, the urgency of any deadline loses its power.

Don’t fall prey to Douglas Adams’ oft-quoted line: “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”

Editors don’t want to hear your whoosh! Why?

Because missing your contracted deadline creates ripple effects in their work you’ll never know about, and it leaves a hint of disrespect in your editor’s mind. That’s a surefire way not to get on your editor’s good side.

I’m not advocating you become fast friends with your editor or that you strive to ingratiate yourself with them.

Rather, I’m pulling back the curtain to reveal five simple ways that being timely can endear you to any editor.

1. Meet your deadline(s)

When you contract for editing work, that contract better have at least one deadline. (Otherwise, you’re either working with an amateur editor or they’re the most flexible editor on earth.)

Some contracts may hold multiple deadlines, e.g., “The editor will receive the client’s first 20,000 words by May 1, 2017.”

Whatever your contract says, adhere to it.

Know your deadlines as closely as you know your protagonist. Emblazon your deadlines wherever you’ll see them every day. Make yourself weary of thinking about your deadline so that it becomes your personal antagonist, only stoppable by meeting your deadline.

As I wrote in my book Don’t Fear the Reaper,

A client who fails to appreciate an editor’s schedule will likely not be that editor’s client for long. Editors often work on multiple projects at the same time, whether that’s editing other books, writing their own books, or freelancing in other ways. Consequently, they may have more deadlines than you as an author might have. And while it would be nice to believe that your book is always their top priority, that’s simply not the case. Busy editors (who tend to be the good editors) juggle projects, shifting their prioritized work day-by-day. Some days, your book will be their top priority. Other days, someone’s book with a closer deadline will replace it. Regardless, an editor can’t do their job unless the author holds up their end of the contract as well.

2. Respond within a predetermined timeframe

Who determines this timeframe? You and your editor, in the contract.

A useful rule of thumb is that two to three business days is an acceptable response timeframe.

In other words, if you and I were working together and I asked you a question about your manuscript on a Monday, I’d expect to hear back from you by Thursday at the latest. However, I’d argue that this suggestion should only apply to those who are so busy with work, family or other commitments in life that they can’t respond more quickly. If you’re an author who’s writing in the margins of your life, let your editor know that upfront so that your predetermined response timeframe can be correctly calibrated.

I assume most editors prefer same-day responses, or at least within twenty-four hours. I do.

This ensures work on your manuscript can keep flowing. Often, these questions are short, and their replies can be quickly sent. If a discussion is necessary, a call may be scheduled. With that, at least your editor knows exactly when you’ll get back to them.

3. Be available

Editors sometimes work strange hours.

While some may hold fast to typical working hours, some may only be able to work on your manuscript on nights or weekends (especially if they’re starting out and still holding a day job.) Even full-time editors may work odd hours depending on their workloads (especially if some other client—not you, of course—failed to meet a deadline, causing a cascade of frustrated expectations for when that editor can complete their work.)

Being timely also means being available.

You don’t have to make yourself constantly available to your editor, but place yourself in their shoes. If you had to work with you, how soon would you want to hear from you? Try not to reschedule calls. Answer emails as soon as you’re able. If an in-person meeting is in order, make it a priority. Of course, an editor should reciprocate such availability.

4. Pay on time

This goes back to my first point: to meet your deadlines, you have to know your deadlines, and one of your deadlines will read “Payment due.”

Many editors ask for half of your full payment up front, before any work has commenced (but after the contract has been signed). Once the work has been completed, you’ll then be asked for the final half-payment, and then you’ll receive your edited manuscript.

This kind of financial arrangement ensures that the editor will be paid for their time while simultaneously forcing you to put your money where your manuscript is. With significant skin in the game — see “How Much You Should Expect to Pay an Editor?” if you need a reminder –you’re now invested in the outcome of your book.

Editors love editing; they don’t love hounding.

We don’t want to spend our time writing emails or leaving voicemails trying to receive payment for services rendered. We understand that life sometimes happens, and, honestly, if you level with us about the reason why your payment isn’t on time, we’ll likely be gracious (the first time) so long as you make an effort to pay your invoice as soon as you can.

As in so many issues in life, just imagine yourself in their role. How would you feel if your paycheck arrived even a day late, much less weeks or months later?

Paying on time, every time, via the method the both of you have agreed upon will make your editorial relationship much easier. They may not be too nice to your manuscript, but that’s what you’re paying them for, right?

5. Communicate

The thread that runs through each of these recommendations is communication. I encourage writers to communicate about their communication.

In other words, let your editor know if you’re about to miss a deadline, or if there’s been a sickness in the family that’s drained your financial resources, etc. You’ll stay on our good sides if we hear from you, and it doesn’t take long to dash off a few sentences in an email just to let us know what’s going on in your world. We’re here to serve you and your book, but we also do this for a living.

Don’t become that frustrating client who consistently misses deadlines or conveniently forgets when payments are due.

If you treat your editor with professionalism and respect, and they do so in return, your book will reap those rewards, and you will likely have cemented a long-lasting writer-editor relationship.

Traveler and blogger Chris Guillebeau

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5 comments

  • Michael Jones says:

    Good info for writers.

  • Interesting stuff. Thanks for posting.

    Out of curiosity, is non-payment or late payment a common problem for freelance editors? If so, what can an editor do about it?

    • I believe it is neither more nor less of an issue than for any other business owner. I came from a family of small business owners, so I had sources of advice for dealing with various issues not directly related to editing, including getting paid on time.

      For example, one piece of advice I received was to stick to my guns when people tried to get me to reduce my prices below a fair market level: “People who can’t pay market rates usually can’t pay their bills.” This meant that I passed up work at some times when I really could have used it, but I think it reduced the likelihood of dealing with a slow-paying or non-paying client.

      Another business owner in the family advised me to offer a discount for prompt payment rather than a penalty for late payment, and that has worked well. My clients are eager to get that discount, because it is one way they have power to control their own costs, and if they pay a bit more slowly, at least I feel I am being compensated for my patience.

      I have also started offering installment plans, which make my services much more affordable and actually even out my cash flow, so it’s a win-win.

      Of course, I always require an upfront deposit before beginning any work.

      Overall, my clients have been wonderful, and I have no complaints.

      Trish O’Connor
      Epiclesis Consulting LLC
      epiclesisconsulting.com

    • I haven’t experienced late payment from writers and they pay 50% upfront, so the balance is normally paid promptly. I have more problems with late payments from businesses – especially large businesses because of their ‘administrative processes’. But by far the slowest payers are universities. I think six months is the record by one very well-known, large university here in Australia!

  • Great stuff Blake. Timeliness is an important virtue whether you are the editor or the writer. You list of clients will continue growing if you manage to return perfect projects before agreed deadlines. And writer will earn more trust if they can pay promptly without questions

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