How To Survive First Contact With Your Editor

Don't PanicRight, let’s admit something right at the start. Talking to someone you don’t know, even if it’s by email, is scary (don’t even get me onto phone calls!).

We always worry about seeming too formal/informal/pushy/weak/ignorant etc. It can be worse when the communication is about hiring someone – do you know enough to hire the right person, how do you know what you want, how do you let them know what you want?

Don’t worry, it’s something we all go through. But when it comes to hiring an editor or proofreader it doesn’t have to be a traumatic experience.

Before you do anything, have a look around and get a feel for the professionals out there. There are loads of specialists and generalists available, and just looking at the SfEP directory can help you narrow down your search a little. Keep in mind that many editorial professionals are booked up months in advance, so factor that into your schedule, then go and have a look at a few websites – this way you will get a feel for your editor and their qualifications. Be patient, take your time and then narrow down your search to one or two editors that you feel you would like to work with (but keep a back-up list in case they are so fully booked that you need to contact someone else). Now it’s time to contact them …

Take a deep breath, arm yourself with all your information and go for it. When you write to your editorial professional be polite, explain who you are, what your project is and give as much pertinent information as possible. Don’t go into too much detail at this stage, but make sure you give the important stuff.

Here is a quick checklist to get the most from your first correspondence:

Tell them who you are – you’d be surprised at how many people don’t give their name.

Be polite – a nice greeting at the beginning of the email, and a closing salutation, is much nicer than diving straight into the message and ending abruptly. I’ve had a few emails like this and, believe me, it doesn’t make a great first impression.

Give them the name of your project and a description of it – it doesn’t have to be elaborate, but again you’d be surprised how many people leave this out of the first contact. If possible tell them how many words the manuscript has and who it is aimed at, along with the subject matter.

Give them an idea of what needs doing – now this is where it can get tricky. What you think needs a quick proofread may actually need a much more in-depth edit for punctuation, grammar and clarity etc. (or it may actually only need a quick proofread). Trust your professional to guide you, but give an indication of what you believe needs addressing. That way you both have a starting point to work from.

Give them information about the format– it may seem trivial but this is important. Do you expect your editorial professional to work from paper or in Word? Have you created your manuscript in some program that may need a specialist working with that format? The sooner this is known the better … for example, not all editors can work with InDesign or QuarkExpress.

Is there a deadline? – from the outset your editor may be fully booked and unable to meet your deadline. The sooner you can book in work the better, but highlighting any deadline at the beginning makes sense … you need to know that your preferred choice of professional is available.

Does the job have any special requirements? – do you need the editor to work closely with the designer, are there multiple authors, will there be a large amount of fact checking or reference sorting? All of these add to the scope of the workload and are important things to tell your editor.

Budget – yes, budget. It is better to let your editor know your budget right at the beginning if you have one. Each project will require a different level of editing or proofreading, and the price will reflect that. It’s wise to let the editor know if you have a tight budget, this will allow you both to reach a compromise if needed. No-one likes talking about money, but if you get it out there in the open right at the start things will be so much easier for both of you.

I’ve created a checklist for you in pdf format (just click on the image below), feel free to download it, print it out and use it when you contact your preferred editor, and if you choose me I’d be delighted. Just remember, it’s really not that scary to approach an editorial professional, especially if you are armed with all the right information. It could be the start of a glorious working relationship.

editor contact form

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