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Friday, April 17, 2015

Congratulations. You Have an Editor...Now What? Tips from Colleen Coble

What to Expect from an Editor
Colleen Coble

Congratulations! An editor has just told you your project is going forward. You have a publishing home for your precious baby. But now you have a new set of worries—what about working with this new person in your life? Exactly what does your editor do? And how do you move forward from this point?

First let’s discuss what your editor is not. She isn’t your new best friend who will answer every inane question you shoot her over email. This is a professional relationship. Yes, over time, you may develop a friendship with her. Then again, maybe it will always stay strictly business. No matter what the level of friendship, you still know your boundaries to be able to effectively take the constructive criticism you want from her. 

When she read your book, she loved it and that’s the reason she bought it. She saw the potential in the manuscript. But also know this: she saw the flaws as well. And there will be flaws. No manuscript is perfect. You know what you intended to say, but until you get input, you don’t know if you conveyed your full vision. A good editor is able to see to the heart of the story. She recognizes what’s missing and what needs more fully developed. 

Too many authors make the mistake of sending in their book and thinking it’s done. Turning in the manuscript is only the beginning of the process. Your book is a team project. Your editor is going to take your baby and read it. She’s then going to come back to you with suggestions for how the story can be strengthened and how the characters can be more fully realized. Listen to her! More often than not, you’ll find out she’s right. 

Expect your editor to have the pulse on publishing. If she tells you a certain scene or attitude won’t work well for her house’s market, she knows what she’s talking about. The best editors always tell you this is your story, but the smartest authors know their editor has seen more and knows more about the market then they do. Only you can know if some suggestions work or not, but learn to listen with your defenses down.

Expect your editor to care about everything that goes into turning your manuscript into a book. When you’ve edited your story, she’ll send it out for more proofreading. She’s going to oversee back cover copy, the way the cover integrates with the story, and the copy written for the sales catalog. At many houses, she’s going to want your input on those things, though at some houses, you might not have a choice. If you’re not in love with something, take a day and think through what works and what doesn’t before coming back with you opinion. Your publishing house puts a lot of thought into how they are marketing the book, so voice any criticism in a positive way. Most of the time, only small tweaks are needed.

Another thing you can expect from your editor is that she is your advocate with your publishing house. She is your front person for contact with your publishing house and most questions can be directed to her. Your editor will consult with marketing and publicity as well and ensure they have a good grasp on what your story is about. 

The book is edited and moving along. Now what? You move on to the next story. Your editor is a good ally here too. Take a deep breath and ask your editor what you need to work on. Characterization? Maybe learning to say less and trust your reader to get it. Maybe you need to work on integrating the setting into the story better, or you need to make your dialogue sing. For the author who is brave enough to ask, your editor will have some suggestions. You never arrive as a writer. With every book you turn in, you should be growing in your craft. Trust your editor to help you.

Your goal as an author is to be someone your editor wants to work with again. You want the people you work with at your publishing house to smile when they see your name pop up in their inbox. You can do that by being encouraging and open to constructive criticism. 

Here are some suggestions on building that relationship:

  1. Plan a visit to your publishing house. Even if it’s on YOUR dime.
  2. Take a picture of you with the group, stick it by your computer and pray for them.
  3. In all areas, be a professional. This means don’t complain. Have a good attitude even if they mess up (and everyone does) just as you’d want them to have a good attitude if you mess up.
  4. BE GRATEFUL!! This is a big one. I can’t tell you how often I see ingratitude. Not a big enough promotion budget, someone else got this or that. When someone inside the house does something great—like selling foreign rights or book club rights—send them an email saying thank you and follow it up with a card. Or chocolate! You can get a list of who does what from your editor or publisher.
  5. Talk up your house! Be proud of them and who they are. 
  6. Recommend other writers to them. It helps your house know you are proud of them. 

Above all, remember you are part of a team. A team that wants you to succeed and make money. Your editor wants to be known as the brilliant person who discovered you, the perfect author every house wants to work with because of your great attitude and your growing sales. Put down your defenses and resolve to be a team player. You won’t be sorry!


Best-selling author Colleen Coble’s novels have won or finaled in awards ranging from the Best Books of Indiana, the ACFW Carol Award, the Romance Writers of America RITA, the Holt Medallion, the Daphne du Maurier, National Readers’ Choice and the Booksellers Best. 

She has more than two million books in print and writes romantic mysteries because she loves to see justice prevail. Colleen is CEO of American Christian Fiction Writers. She lives with her husband, Dave, in Indiana. 

To keep up with Colleen Coble, visit, become a fan on Facebook (colleencoblebooks) or follow her on Twitter (@colleencoble). 


  1. Colleen - this is the best post I've seen to help writers understand the relationship and expectations with an editor. And it comes from someone who has excelled at being the kind of author who the entire publishing team (and industry) loves to dream and work with. These words are gold. Thanks for sharing them! Allen


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