Guest Post: Are Editors Scary? by Manda Waller

by Manda Waller

I’ll come clean. Straight away. I’m a copy editor (also known as a line editor). But honestly, I’m not scary!

I work primarily with independent authors, many of them writing their first novel. Every time I connect with an author for the first time, I ask them a series of questions.

These start with questions about their book:
– what’s the genre?
– who’s your target audience?
– what’s the current word count?

And go on to questions about themselves:
– have you been published before?
– have you written before?
– are you a member of a writing group?

These questions about the book and about the author help me to target my feedback at an appropriate level. They help me to get an overview.

And then I ask them the most important question:
– what concerns do you have about being edited?

And every time, I hear the same answer.

They are worried that their writing is bad. They are embarrassed. They don’t want to feel attacked, or defensive. They’ve spent a year, two years, ten years writing a manuscript. It’s their baby. And they don’t want anyone telling them their baby is ugly. They don’t want to feel judged.

hand working on paper for proofreading

I get it. I totally do. I’m an editor who has been edited. It’s scary, daunting even, to hand over your manuscript to a stranger. Someone who is going to critique it. To scribble on it in red pen.

And this is why it’s so important to pick an editor who is right for you.

From an editor’s perspective, sometimes it’s hard to understand exactly what support an author needs. Some authors want “no-frills” feedback. They want it straight. They want to learn. They want their manuscript analysed in microscopic detail. They don’t want flannel or flattery.

But other authors need a gentler approach.

What can you do to make sure that you find an editor who is right for you?

Firstly, let your editor know how you are feeling. Are you scared or defensive? Have you had a horrible editing experience in the past? If so, what did you not like about it? Tell your editor if it’s your first book. Tell them that no one else has read it. Let your editor tailor their service to suit your emotional (as well as your editorial) requirements. After all, you are paying them. You are in charge.

A sample edit is a great way to work out whether an editor is a good fit for you. Most editors will do a sample edit for free, or for a small charge, and it will demonstrate the type of editor they are. When you get your sample back, have a proper look at it. Most editors will pick up the issues – they will find the points of grammar, spelling, punctuation, pace, sentence structure etc. – but you should be looking at HOW they communicate this with you.

Are they simply highlighting something and saying that it’s wrong? Or are they also making suggestions for alternatives, for improvements? Are they insistent, imposing their amendments? Or are they clearly and gently explaining their suggestions? The editing process should be a learning experience. Read their comments. Are they using a language that you understand? Do you feel encouraged, supported, inspired?

If a sample edit isn’t available (for example, developmental editors rarely provide a sample edit as they need to digest the entire manuscript to provide feedback), then just look at how your prospective editor is communicating with you. Get a sense of whether they are asking you questions to work out your requirements, to gauge the level of support you need. Or are they just talking about themselves, their services and how great they are?

Have a look at their website – is it friendly? Does it clearly display how the process works? Can you see their fees?

Are they on social media? What kind of posts do they make?

A wise colleague of mine once said, “An author’s success is an editor’s success.” We genuinely want you to succeed. We don’t care about mistakes – if you didn’t make them, we wouldn’t have a job. Feedback can be honest AND kind. The author-editor relationship should be a team. And the author should be firmly in the captain’s seat.

About the Author:

Manda Waller is a fiction editor from the UK, working with independent authors from around the world. She specialises in romance (including chick-lit), women’s fiction, eco-fiction and fantasy and works on adult novels, YA and MG. She is a Professional Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading ( a Partner Member of the Alliance of Independent Authors ( and a member of Contemporary Romance Writers. She is a mum to three teenage daughters and two black Labradors. And most of all, she is kind.

* * *

Ashley O’Melia is an independent author and freelancer from Southern Illinois.  She holds her Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University.  Her books include The Wanderer’s Guide to Dragon Keepingand The Graveside DetectiveHer short stories have been published in The Penmen Review, Siren’s Call, and Subcutaneous.  Ashley’s freelance work has spanned numerous genres for clients around the world.  You can find her on Facebook and Amazon.

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