The Three R’s of Working with Editors

Today’s first-time blog contributor is Rebecca L. Mitchell, who shares insights on working with editors, based on her experience while going through the publication process for her first book, “From Broken Vows to Healed Hearts.”


Janyre (pronounced Jan-ear), my 2nd editor, told me I was “SUPER easy to work with,” and that she was singing my praises to the other editors. Really? I was utterly surprised . . . and then a bit confused.

Editors talk about their authors with each other? Are there comparisons? Rankings? Eye-rolling? As a new, insecure author, I was swimming in unknown waters and sincerely wondered why she was so complimentary.

So I asked her. What was I doing that editors like?

Keep in mind, this is one experience of traditionally publishing one nonfiction book with a small Christian publishing house. I also had wise, supportive editors who offered great advice, so this is not a tale of editing woes, which I know exist.

Whether we are dealing with a traditional editor, writing coach, critique group member, or dear friend, her answer gives us the 3 R’s of working with editors:

1) Respect

This may seem obvious and even expected from Christians, but this does not always play out in reality. Editors are experts in their field, knowing more than we do—at least most of us—about developing a manuscript to becoming a publishable book. Unfortunately, rumor has it, authors who feel restrained by rules or alleged lack of vision from editors, can get a little . . . unpleasant.

Yes, the book is a baby of our own making, but the editors are the doctors and nurses who help bring our baby into the world. We need to trust and rely on good editors’ expertise to provide the healthiest delivery possible.

I didn’t always agree with my editors—more on this later—but I never had an attitude. I was appreciative from day one, grateful for the opportunity to receive professional feedback.

Janyre said I was “nice” and didn’t treat her as if she was out to get me. Partially due to her own kindness and encouragement, I knew we were on the same side, working to make my book the best it could be.

It’s a good thing we worked well together because I learned she has the final say. She can even finish revising a manuscript herself if the author is uncooperative. She doesn’t work for me; she works for my publisher to make the book as good as it can be from their point of view.

2) Responsiveness

I teach English composition to freshmen at a competitive university, so I understand the value and need to respond to constructive criticism. Janyre told me “You took constructive criticism very well and actually did what I asked.”

One revision she asked for was to better incorporate the Psalm of the Week throughout the chapters. I knew she was right and had wondered about this previously. Lesson learned: listen to your nagging inner critic. I sent a revision of the first chapter to make sure I was addressing her concerns before I went through the entire book.

When I got feedback from Editor #3, I struggled. Line-by-line is literal, not figurative, and, at first glance, it seemed I had red marks on every single line. Umm. Excuse me. Did you forget I’m a college English teacher? That sentence isn’t wrong; it’s just a matter of preference! I took a couple of days to let the anger and embarrassment subside, and then I got to work.

3) Resolution

I was blessed to work with a wonderfully supportive team at Kregel Publications who contractually “owned” my book but respected and honored my voice, encouraging my resolve to keep the book mine as much as possible.

The title is not mine, however. My original title was Beyond Brokenness: Hope for Women Healing from Divorce, which they changed to From Broken Vows to Healed Hearts: Seeking God After Divorce Through Community, Scripture and Journaling. The cover idea? Not mine either. They asked for my input but ultimately went their own direction. I didn’t feel like I was losing my voice though; I felt like I was trusting their expertise.

Other times I pushed back, not demanding, but negotiating for my own voice. Janyre suggested changing the section subtitles that repeated throughout the book. I agreed with her critical rationale, but I only liked one of her suggestions. I brainstormed and we communicated back and forth via email a few times until I came up with something we both loved.

Even with the line-by-line editor, I was able to restore edits and explain why I wanted to keep a word or sentence structure as-is. I didn’t get everything I wanted, however, with the Managing Editor (Editor #4) having the final say, but I never felt bullied into making the changes.

On the front cover of my book is one name: Rebecca L. Mitchell. However, I recognize and am grateful for the many voices contributing to my book, including my editors. I hope they are still singing my praises because I’m sure those in marketing, who deal with obnoxious things like platform, are singing a different tune. But that’s another blog post . . .


Timeline to Publication

Mar 2016 Met Editor #1 at Mount Hermon. No-go on the elevator pitch but yes on the manuscript! (Woo-hoo!)
Aug 2016 Sent the query letter, annotated outline, and first three chapters. Heard nothing.
Dec 2016 Got offered a contract.
Mar 2017 Sent the complete manuscript. Phew!
Apr 2017 It was too short. Ugh! Editor #1 offered some helpful suggestions.
May 2017 Sent it again with 10,000 more words.
Jun 2017 Began the first of many back and forth rounds with Editor #2, my developmental editor, Janyre.
Sep 2017 Finished content changes with Janyre.
Oct 2017 Editor #3 marked line-by-line corrections and suggested changes. Brutal.
Nov 2017 Finished with Editor #3 with oversight from Editor #4—last chance for big changes.
Feb 2018 Proofreading – last chance for small changes.
May 22, 2018 Released!

 

About Rebecca L. Mitchell 1 Article
Rebecca writes with a passion to see women come alongside each other in their healing journeys. She is celebrating the release of her first book, From Broken Vows to Healed Hearts: Seeking God After Divorce Through Community, Scripture, and Journaling. Her day job is teaching English composition at UC Davis.

6 Comments

  1. What a journey! The struggle was real, but also what a privilege to have four expert editors assist in creating a great book. I think that’s one of the strengths and benefits of traditional publishing.

    And the content of your book is wonderful! Just as your kindness showed in the editing process, it shines through in your end result to help those recovering from divorce as well!

    • Thank you for your support throughout the journey, Deb! You are one of those contributing voices for which I am so thankful!

  2. Super excited for you! Yes working with an editor or editors is BRUTAL, but as my mentor told me, after I cried on his shoulder because of all the red, “You want to be edited fiercely so your book will be THE BEST.

    • Thank you, Jane! Yes, I remember a few tears and mostly feeling really discouraged. But you’re right; it does turn out for the best.

  3. Great article Rebecca! Your advice is informative and practical. I appreciate your transparency about what you did well as well as what you struggled with. So many advice articles just give advice without sharing honest feedback about the author’s personal experience both positive and negative. You have taken a little of the anxiety away from those of us who have yet to face this process.
    Well done!

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