Bringing a professional academic editor into your project is one of the best ways to achieve your publishing goals. But like any relationship, a sustainable author–editor relationship takes work, as both parties are responsible for ensuring their own and the other’s needs and expectations are met. Whether your relationship lasts for only a single project or for multiple decades, here is how authors can build sustainable relationships with editors.
Every author approaches their craft differently. Your writing process is unique to your life situation, energy levels, and professional goals—and this shapes what kind of editor relationship you need. Before you start talking to editors, set aside some time to turn a generous but keen eye to your work process and how you approach writing.
Notice where in your writing process you find yourself wanting help and what kind of feedback you’re craving. Maybe you struggle with introductory and conclusion chapters and wish someone could read the body chapters first to help you figure out what those framing chapters should say. Perhaps you find it difficult to decide which peer review suggestions to follow and which can be ignored. Maybe you tend to put off citation formatting to the very end and then forget to fix it after all. Or perhaps you have difficulty sustaining the writing schedules you set for yourself and would benefit from external deadlines.
When doing this, it’s important not to judge your writing process. This isn’t the time to beat yourself up for not writing the way you think you should, especially considering how much all of our writing routines have changed during the pandemic. Instead, it’s the time to get real with yourself about your process, your energy levels, and your workflow—keeping in mind that these might have shifted recently.
Do your research
Like authors, every academic editor works differently and it is vital that you find the one that is the best fit for your needs. This means not going with the first editor you hear of but instead taking some time to research the editor options out there and assessing how they might help you.
Ask your colleagues about their editors and how they worked with them. Check out the editors who are thanked in acknowledgement pages. Tap your professional and personal networks to see what editors are already in your communities.
Once you have some names, check them out. Thoroughly read their websites, check out their social media posts, and go through the content they produce. You’re looking for how they approach editing as well as working with authors.
Some things to track include the types of editing they provide, their editorial workflow, their portfolio of past projects, their training and experience, and their reputation among both other editors as well as authors like you.
Focus on fit
The most important thing when building a sustainable relationship with your editor is finding the editor who best fits your writing process and can best help you with your specific needs. Knowing your tendencies, patterns, and preferences is crucial here, as you will not be the right author for every editor (nor vice versa). Use the research you did on yourself as well as academic editors to play match maker.
Balancing professional community with personal needs will help here, and it’s important to be up front with what you need right now. If you find an awesome editor who has worked with a lot of your colleagues and friends, but after checking their website you realize their workflow doesn’t match yours, they aren’t a good fit. It doesn’t mean they’re not a good editor or that there’s anything wrong with your workflow. It just means that they’re not right for you.
Clarify logistics and communication
Once you’ve identified the editor who best fits your workflow, needs, and budget, it’s time to get clear on all the logistics. What type of editing will your editor be providing and what exactly does that type of editing include and exclude? When and how will you deliver files and receive them back? What are the consequences if these deadlines are missed? What is the pay rate, when will you be invoiced, and when and how is payment due? How do you and your editor prefer to be contacted and when are your respective business hours? How are things like copyright, data privacy, and confidentiality being handled? Get specific here to avoid complications down the line.
Your editor should provide you a contract to sign that outlines all of these elements—if not, it’s giant red flag. Make sure to carefully review the contract and discuss any questions you have before signing. Contracts should protect all parties involved and ensure that everyone is clear on their responsibilities. They’re crucial to sustainable author–editor relationships.
Meet your deadlines
You knew this one was coming, right? After you’ve done the hard work of setting the schedule with your editor and outlining it in the contract, you need to actually hit those deadlines. Make sure to deliver all documents by the agreed-upon deadlines. Most editors have tight client calendars so blowing a deadline will most likely mean you’re left with the next open spot, which can be months away. Your ability to meet your deadlines is one way editors decide which authors to work with again in the future or recommend to others, so in addition to just being basic professionalism it also affects the sustainability of your relationship with this editor and other publishing professionals as well.
If you know ahead of time you won’t be able to meet a contracted deadline, get in touch with your editor as soon as possible. (Of course, rare emergencies happen that you can’t control or predict but I’m talking here about the stuff you see coming.) Ask if rescheduling is possible and make clear you’re happy to accept their next availability. Most editors will be willing to reschedule so long as you’ve done your part toward supporting your relationship.
The pandemic means that all of our schedules are more challenging than normal, so it is important that both authors and editors are compassionate with each other. Doing what you can to meet your deadlines shows your editor you care about their time and labor (not to mention financial situation), but don’t feel bad if you need to adjust. We’re all human here.
Depending on the editing workflow you and your editor have agreed upon, you may have scheduled meetings to check in on the project’s process. But if these aren’t part of your editor’s workflow, feel free to get in touch if you have specific questions or need clarification about something that is within the scope of their editing fee. Make sure to check your contract to confirm how your editor would like you to check in (email, Zoom, text, etc.).
If you’d like to discuss something beyond the project’s scope—for instance, you’d like to discuss publisher recommendations but this isn’t part of your contracted editing work—you two should work out a consulting fee for that. Your editor can draw up a new contract to ensure everything is clear. If you have several questions or things to discuss, consider bundling those together into a longer meeting or email.
If during the course of your project you are uncomfortable or unclear about anything, please let your editor know. Remaining silent and seething when something is bothering you doesn’t help either party, nor does assuming your editor can read your mind. If you’ve built a strong relationship with your editor, they will no doubt welcome your communication and work with you to solve any problems. This goes both ways, so make sure you’re willing to work through any problems or confusions your editor might have as well.
Spread the love
Finally, if you have had a positive experience working with your editor, consider letting your colleagues and friends know! You’ve done the hard work to find a great editor and you both have put in the labor to build a sustainable relationship that helps you meet your publishing goals. Letting folks know who can also benefit from that type of relationship is a wonderful professional contribution to your community. One easy way to do this is to thank your editor in your acknowledgements; another is to chime in when your colleagues ask about the editing process.
Also let your editor know about the progress of your publication. Many editors are happy to help spread the word about upcoming events or publications (which is a big help with book marketing).
A strong relationship with an editor who really gets you and your work is priceless. It keeps you motivated to keep writing and can mean reaching the audiences you care about. Building sustainable author–editor relationships does take work but it is absolutely worth it.