Editing: Dos and Don’ts

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So you’ve solicited a friend to take a look at the proof copy of your Blurb book you just got in the mail? Brilliant. There’s nothing like a second pair of eyes to make sure your book is letter-perfect … except maybe a third pair of eyes. But if you want to keep your editor friend both your editor and your friend, there is an author-editor code of conduct to consider.

Too often this code is unspoken, and hence broken – read the anonymous book editor’s rant on gawker.com, and you’ll see what I mean. That’s one seriously disgruntled editor – and this is someone whose livelihood depends on maintaining relationships with authors. When you’ve got people editing your book solely out of the kindness of their hearts, you need to go the extra mile.

Here are some tips:

  • Don’t leave it all up to one person. Even professional editors divide editing responsibilities among squadrons of copyeditors, subject-matter experts, and proofreaders. Depending how much text is in your book, you may want more than one person on the job – and always ask a reliable friend in advance if they’d be willing to step in as needed toward your deadline.
  • Do divvy up the task. Have each friend look at one chapter, or ask each person to check just one thing throughout the book: photo captions, chapter intros, historical facts, or misspellings.
  • Don’t ask for more input than you really want. If you just want a grammar check, say so – otherwise, you may find yourself in the uncomfortable situation of having to explain to your disappointed editor pal why you completely ignored all that well-intentioned feedback on your photo selections.
  • Do get the right editor for the task at hand. To get your family history book proofed, you might want to send out a mass e-mail to find out which of your friends are spelling bee champs or History Channel addicts.
  • Don’t call incessantly. (Four out of the 11 anonymous book editor’s pet peeves are about calls.) Following up casually once or twice before the deadline should do the trick without making your editor cranky. If your editor/friend seems unresponsive or harried, gently suggest that you can pass along the task to someone else. Either your friend will recommit, or in a moment of sheer relief, confess to you that it wasn’t really going to be possible to finish in time. Good to know.
  • Do ask your editors each how much time they’ll need – then give them even more. Work around their schedules, including weekend plans, so that they can get any edits back to you well before the holidays hit. (Gentle nudge: That would be mid-November. For friends with kids, factor in Halloween too.)
  • Don’t forget to say please and thank you, over and over. Offer to return the favor anytime. And when words can’t express your gratitude, try chocolate.

How are you keeping your editors happy?

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