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Being Kind to Your (Non-Professional) Editor

Posted by Charles Gray on January 13, 2014

 Not all of us can afford a professional editor. Professional editors cost money, often to the tune of hundreds of dollars. If you’re lucky, a style edit for a novel, may run three dollars a page (and that means you’re very lucky, especially if it’s a good editor), which means that you may be talking nearly a thousand dollars to look at a not-so-large manuscript–and style edits aren’t the only type of editing out there.

So many of us fall back on our friends, family members and that fellow down the street who you are currently blackmailing into editing your book.

Now, I’m not going to talk about the need to make certain they’re telling you what they think you need to know or all the other pitfalls that can hit when you’re using unpaid (and presumably not-professional) editors. 

I’m talking about how you need to treat them.

Reading a new book can be fun. Once. However, every subsequent read gets less and less fun until your editor is looking for some fire ants to drop down his trousers to relieve the tedium. If your editors come to think that you are treating them without respect, they’ll either stop helping you, or worse, stop caring.

So, what do you need to do? What will ensure that your friends keep answering your phone calls and don’t block your email?

Complete the Book

Is your book finished? Have you proofed it and rewritten it until you think that it’s honestly ready to go? That there is nothing else that needs doing?


It’s not time to hand it to your friend. There is nothing, nothing that makes someone feel annoyed more than realizing that the writer who just handed them a book couldn’t be arsed to pick up stray commas and misspellings. Not only is it annoying, but it also shows that the author really doesn’t about his or her work, and if you don’t care about your book, why should anyone else?

Don’t Get Annoyed By Corrections

Of course, your book isn’t ready to go. They never are.  We all dream that the only thing we’ll hear about is the fact that page 22 is missing a single comma and that other than that, the book is one long ride of awesome that will leave women wanting to bear our children.

That’s not what you’re going to hear. In fact, if you do hear it…find another editor. Every book has blind spots. You knew the characters, you knew where you were going and at some point that means you may not be detailed enough for people who are just reading it cold.

Be understanding. Yes, it’s your baby, but this editor, this untrained, nonprofessional who is doing it because they want to help you aren’t trying to kill your baby, they’re trying to ensure that your baby grows up to become President. That means that even if you don’t agree with their change, talk to them about it. Don’t dismiss the suggestion out of hand. 

Know When to Say No

One the other hand, the biggest danger of using an amateur editor or working with a writing group is that very often it’s the blind leading the blind. Being an proficient editor is a job that demands professional skills, not the least of which are knowing when there’s a problem with a story and when it’s just not something the editor would do. 

This makes it imperative that you understand that at the end of the day, the decision is yours. Don’t be mean about it, and don’t dismiss the opinion of those friends you’re working with, but the final decision is on you and you alone. Design by committee benefits nobody.

Take Them Out For Dinner

Or a movie, or buy them a book they want. Just because you can’t pay professional rates doesn’t mean you can’t show your appreciation for someone who is helping you. Thank them, both in person and in your book’s credits.  Once your book is selling, let other people know that it was a joint effort. A little appreciation goes a very long way, after all.

Remember, much as we would like to assume otherwise, editorial help, whether it’s an depth copy edit or a brief read to see if the book works plotwise is a vital part of the writing process. If you can’t afford a professional editor, these suggestions can certainly help you keep your friends happy.




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