Writing and Publishing

Use the Right Editor for Your Book

Following every suggestion from the wrong editor leads to wrong results

In my work as a magazine publisher I learned early on that I needed an editor. After a couple of issues with embarrassing mistakes, I realized I would never catch all the errors myself.

I hired someone to edit the articles before the printing press permanently immortalized them. For a while, I dual-sourced this, but eventually, I picked one; she has been working with me for about fifteen years. (By the way, we’ve never met; we do all our work via email.)

She does a combination of proofreading and copy-editing, with the overarching goal of producing a professional result. I’ve also had her work on a couple of books but not all of them. Sometimes I need help from someone with a different skill set, such as in making my dissertation comply with a complicated set of formatting requirements.

A few years ago I showed an agent a finished memoir. He liked the concept but said it needed more work. He referred me to a book doctor to advise me in adding more zing.

I liked the guy, but he was expensive. After an hour or so of interaction, I realized we would quickly grow frustrated with each other: him pushing me to make changes I didn’t feel right about and me resisting most of his recommendations. I suggested we not continue. He agreed.

The agent was surprised (perhaps frustrated) at my decision to fire his recommended editor, but he referred me to another fixer. Her rates were much less—about one fifth the price. I eagerly accepted some of her suggestions but struggled mightily to implement others. Though her vision for the final product was different from mine, I pushed through to make every change possible. I assumed that once done, the agent would like the results and agree to represent me. Though he still affirmed the idea, the execution, he felt, fell short. He declined to take me on as a client.

I still hope to publish this book, but before I do, it needs more work. About half of the second editor’s suggestions improved my book, while the other half moved it away from my target audience. I will need to remove some of these things she pushed me to include before I can move forward.

Over the years I’ve worked with other editors on books and projects, but for various reasons, we never clicked: the cost, the turnaround time, their mindset, the manner in which they present recommendations or the value of the feedback provided.

When working with an editor we need to find the right one for our project, our audience, and us. We need to learn when to implement their recommendations and when to decline. And we must respect their opinions on things we don’t understand. Mostly we need someone we trust, just as I trust my magazine’s copy-editor.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s book: Successful Author FAQs: Discover the Art of Writing, the Business of Publishing, and the Joy of Wielding Words. Get your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book Successful Author FAQs for insider tips and insights.


By Peter Lyle DeHaan

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, publishes books about business, customer service, the call center industry, and business and writing.