How to brief your editor

It can be scary working with an editor for the first time…

Perhaps you are baffled by all the talk of levels of editing, don’t know what the difference is between an editor and a proofreader or are just not sure what you want or need.

You could be a new author, an established author who has been told by their publisher to hire an editor, a student, a committee member who has been told to hire someone to go through the reports, an entrepreneur looking to polish your business website, a businessman looking at your business documentation… I could go on, but thankfully for you I won’t.


To get the best experience you need consider a few things before you even approach a professional. Sit down with a notebook, or whatever you write on, and ask yourself the following:

Do you want someone to guide you and talk to you about the way the writing flows? Developmental editors specialise in looking at the style and structure of your writing, how it is arranged, its strengths and weaknesses and the author’s voice. They work before copy-editors and work more in-depth with the author.

Do you just want someone to look at the spelling, grammar and punctuation or do you want someone to go over your document with a fine toothcomb as to sentence structure, continuity and the way your writing is set out on the page. A copy-editor will do this for you.

Are you confident that your manuscript is finished and just needs a proofreader to catch the last few typos and mis-formatted lines.

Is the writing and editing finished but document headings and paragraphs need formatting before a quick proofread for mistakes that have crept in.


The more fixed you have the finished product in your mind, the more efficiently you can tell the editor what you really need and the more open the dialogue can be. Do not be afraid to tell the editor what you want… this is a professional service you are paying for and you both need to know what is involved. You need to know what you are prepared to pay, and the editor needs to know where to draw a line. An editor may want to go that bit further and correct flow and syntax, but if the author only wants (and is paying for) a quick spelling and grammar check, then that is what must be done. And the author must understand that if they want a full copy-edit, which involves style, flow and formatting, as well as spelling, grammar and punctuation, then this will cost much more than a simple document check. No one wants a nasty surprise. But we do want an honest and useful working relationship.

The more information you can give to your editor or proofreader, the easier it can be to figure out exactly what is needed, then you both know where you stand.

Important information can include:

Number of words in the document. Pages in a Word document will not be the same as the number of pages in the finished article, therefore an editor can find it easier to work to a word count.

Type of document. Is it a book manuscript, a business report, a flyer, brochure, catalogue, marketing material, website…

Readership level. Is your writing aimed at an academic market or a general readership.

Timeframe. When do you need the work done by… the sooner you need it done, the chances are the work will be more expensive. A nice long deadline means editors are less pressured, and many will charge extra for “rush jobs”. Just like you, we like to work “proper” hours and not work into the night or over the weekend.

Budget. An editor can charge per hour or per budget amount. If you only have a certain budget, talk to the editor about what work can reasonably done for the money. If working to an hourly rate be sure you know how long the job is likely to take.

How finished is your writing? It’s much easier all round, and cheaper for you, if you approach an editor once the writing is completed as far as you can take it. Don’t hand over the first edit of a manuscript, the chances are there will be a large amount of work to be done, that will make the job more expensive.

Rather than looking at the author/editor relationship with trepidation look at it as an exciting phase in your writing, but be sure you know what you want before you hire the editor of your choice.

I’ve prepared a handy two-page document here for you, to allow you to note down all those vital ingredients that help towards a great working relationship with your editor. Remember, the first editor you approach may not be the best fit, but armed with the right information makes the whole process easier. Just click on the image below for the free pdf.

editor contact form

2 Comments on “How to brief your editor

  1. Awesome tool, the article and the form. I will put up a permanent link to this from my site. Thanks!

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