Guest Blog Post: Author-Editor Compatibility: The Crucial Element for a Successful Editing Experience

Independent editors. What do they do? When do you need them? How do you find them–and, most crucial, how do you determine whether they’re qualified to be doing what they’re doing? These very important questions are addressed on the Editors page of the Writer Beware website.

Just as important, however, is a question that arises after you’ve determined your editing needs (and budget) and done your due diligence: are you and your chosen editor compatible? To get the most out of the editing experience, you must feel comfortable with your editor and be able to communicate openly with him or her.

Today’s guest post, from experienced editor Katherine Pickett, addresses the issue of author-editor compatibility (which she calls “workability”) and how to determine whether you and your chosen editor will be able to work well together.


Author-Editor Workability: The Crucial Element for a Successful Editing Experience

by Katherine Pickett

With all the people out there calling themselves editors, finding a qualified, reputable editor for your book can be a challenge. Finding the right editor for you adds another dimension to the task.

To locate a reputable editor, conventional wisdom tells you that you must track down the names of editors, research each of them, contact those who seem qualified to edit your book, and then ask for a cost estimate. Some authors are tempted to stop right there and make their judgment based on the cost estimate alone. However, there is one more crucial element to be assessed. You must evaluate your ability to work well with this person—what I call your potential editor’s “workability.”

When it comes to the author-editor relationship, workability encompasses many things, including agreement on writing and editing styles, availability to meet your editing needs, and personal compatibility. Each of these has a significant impact on the quality of your editing experience.

Editing Styles Vary from Editor to Editor

Each editor you interview will have different strengths and weaknesses as well as a different approach to the editing process. These make up that editor’s style.

To learn your potential editor’s style, ask for a sample edit when you request the cost estimate. With a sample edit, your potential editor takes a few pages from your manuscript and edits them as she would the full book. Review this sample carefully to see how it compares with your own expectations and goals. As you go through the sample, ask yourself a few key questions: Are you comfortable with your editor’s approach to the rules of grammar? Is your voice intact? Are the editor’s queries to you clear and on target? Has she uncovered problems you didn’t know were there? Do you feel she gets what you are trying to accomplish?

If you went into the editing process thinking you needed a light copy edit and you came out of it with a completely rewritten piece, you have to determine if your editor was correct in making those changes or if you want to find someone who will tread more lightly. Similarly, if you wanted help with big-picture items and your sample was returned with punctuation and grammar corrected but nothing else, you may decide you need someone else.

Ultimately, the changes you find in the sample edit should make you confident that this editor will support you and help you achieve your vision for the book. When you have that, you know you are close to finding the right editor for you.

Availability Means More than Space on the Calendar

Let’s assume you really like the sample you received and you think this editor might be the one. Now what?

Now you have to check her availability. On a very basic level, your editor has to have room on her calendar. It’s possible she is unable to start on your project for a few weeks. You will then have to decide if you can wait until she is free or if you need to move on.

A more important question, however, is whether she is able to commit the necessary time to your project to fully meet your needs. Many editors carry three or four projects at once. Although they can do high-quality work this way, they don’t always have the time to answer long lists of questions or explain the publishing process. If this is your editor, you will need to be fairly self-sufficient in the review of the editing, asking specific questions rather than asking her to explain each change. This describes most author-editor relationships and it often works very well.

However, if you prefer someone who is available to go through each page of the manuscript with you or help you with more than just editing—for example, you would like to discuss which publishing option is best for you, how to increase the marketability of your book, or how best to research your competition—let your potential editor know that. That way she can tell you up front if she can give you and your project the attention you are looking for. You will likely pay extra for these services, but this help is available to you.

Compatible Personalities Make for Better Communication

The final piece to the workability picture is having compatible personalities.

This is hugely important during the editing process because editing can be a painful time. The manuscript that you have worked long and hard to craft is being judged and manipulated by someone else. You may feel defensive, vulnerable, and deflated when you see your editor’s suggested changes. You may experience this regardless of who edits your book, but it will sting a little less if you have someone you trust and respect doing the work.

The best way to know if you are compatible with your editor is to speak with her on the phone. When two people have compatible personalities, they tend to communicate well, and that is key to making your manuscript the best it can be. If you don’t communicate well—you make a joke and your editor doesn’t laugh, or you can’t tell when she is being sarcastic or supportive—you will have a difficult time taking criticism in the best possible light. When you can make a connection, you will know that she understands your vision and has your best interests in mind as she edits your manuscript, and that is when the editing process is the most rewarding.


Your editor doesn’t have to be your best friend, and she doesn’t have to be a teammate. However, you do have to work well with each other, and that includes professional and personal characteristics.

With the right author-editor combination, the editing process is not drudgery. It is challenging and emotional but also invigorating and exciting as you see your work transformed into something even better than you thought possible.


Katherine Pickett is the owner of POP Editorial Services, LLC, and the author of Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro. Through POP she offers copyediting, proofreading, and developmental editing to authors and publishers across the country. She has been involved in the publishing industry since 1999, including five years as an in-house production editor with McGraw-Hill and two years with Elsevier Inc.

Throughout her career Katherine has edited more than 300 books in a wide range of topics and genres. She is an active member of the Editorial Freelancers Association and the St. Louis Publishers Association and is president of the Montgomery County chapter of the Maryland Writers’ Association. She is also a polished speaker and workshop leader, educating writers and indie publishers about the book publishing industry since 2008. You can find her blog here.


  1. such good points. As someone in traditional publishing (all with one house) that has had 6 editors in three years (all of them have left the company) I've learned pretty quickly that compatibility is so important. There are some editors I've had that I would happily hand my spare kidney and others I need chocolate to even open an email from them.

  2. On three occasions I have hired various editor's to help me nut out issues in my MS that I just could not see for myself.

    I've also used the services of an editor for 3 short stories, it was important to me to get a set of editorial eyes on the work before submitting.

    All of your points are wonderful and valid, however, I have to make a comment on the phone-to-phone communication. Sometimes this simply is not possible; as is the case when the author (me) lives in Australia and the editor(s) live in the USA. Between the time difference and other factors (my 9pm is your 7am for example making me very tired and the editor only 1/2 awake, and the time difference get worse in my summer USA winter).

    I have overcome this by *getting to know* the editors. I have come to know them through social media. I've looked at other clients and got referrals, and always, always, there is a sample of pages.

    I ma very clear on what I want (usually making a comment not to touch spelling and grammar as UK & USA grammar and especially spelling differs), and when I want or need it by.

    After the sample I send a detailed reply email with anything I was thrilled about, anything I didn't understand or anything I didn't agree with. Their reply tells me a lot about who this person is and how we'll work together.

    I always ask for a dollar figure and I also tell the editor if they come to that figure but have not finished to contact me before going over that mark.

    I have said NO as many times as I have said YES to an editor's services and so far, following those rules, I have not had a bad experience.

  3. Anonymous, I'm afraid if you want a high-quality book that people will spend their money on, you will also have to spend some money. If budget is an issues, you can get some good help from critique groups and the like, and you can reduce the cost of editing by thoroughly revising the manuscript, but a professional edit is necessary and most likely won't be free.

  4. How do I get some editing done for Free? My daughter has a children's book and she needs some drawings and illustrations and from everything I read we shouldn't spend any money. Please help!

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