Fiction Editing: the Do’s and Don’ts of Editing Professionally

Now that I have some time this week to post, I’m going to pick up where I left off when I was discussing editing. Recently, we’ve talked about what an editor does and what the difference is between content editing and copy editing. Now I’d like to talk specifically about fiction, because the fiction process is one that’s important to understand both on the writer’s side, but also on the editor’s.

DOs and DON’Ts of Being an Editor

    Don’t: Reject someone’s work because they have no experience.
    Do: Reject the work if the quality isn’t up to par.

    Don’t: Judge someone’s writing by how you would write it yourself.
    Do: Take into account the writer’s personal style.

    Don’t: Communicate poorly with a writer and expect them to understand you.
    Do: Provide feedback, writer’s guidelines and style guides when appropriate.

    Don’t: Expect the first draft to be perfect.
    Do: Require that the writer produce a second draft and respond to comments within a reasonable period of time.

    Don’t: Rewrite the author’s work without their permission.
    Do: Let the author know what is going on, even if it’s in their contract. This is essential for novels!

    Don’t: Change the terms of the agreement after you’ve provided a first round of edits.
    Do: Stick to the terms and build a solid reputation as an editor.

Good Editors Produce Great Writers

Speaking from personal experience and after seeing dozens of edited manuscripts for my friends, usually the first round of a story isn’t in the greatest of shape and it’s never perfect. Why? Simply, there’s a lot of details the more involved of a story you have, and all too often writers are anxious to get the first draft out. Lots of freelance writers have deadlines, but so do fiction authors. Typically, publishers build in editing to the product timeline once the first draft is submitted to ensure the product is to their liking. Edits can range from harsh–changing the tone or the entire plot of a story to fit a theme or publication–to simple proofreading, but often include both.

Most editors know this, but some don’t. The ones that don’t are doing themselves and their writers a huge disservice because of the time it takes to write. For example, let’s say that you’re editing a shared world series of fiction where each book is written by a different author. Shared worlds and collections often have different editorial requirements that the writer will not know about unless the editor tells them. Writing guidelines are essential for writers because every minute a writer spends on a project translates into money gained or money lost. Even with an extended outline, one novel can take up to six months to produce based on other time-consuming bits like research or shifts within the setting’s landscape.

This is also why a lot of writers either work on multiple projects on one time, or ensure that they are fully protected by a contract and a kill fee. Some writers find publishers to work with that they trust in order to keep working and keep writing. One huge benefit of finding a publisher to work with is that it takes less time to edit a work when you’re familiar with the writer (and vice versa). If a writer works for any editor without a contract it’s usually for a good reason; if this happens to you as an editor, don’t take advantage of them. It goes without saying that it’s important for both writers and editors to be professional for many reasons on several, different levels. If you’re on the receiving side of drama, you’re better off finding other places to work with than to stoop to that level.

Remember, in today’s age–your online reputation is everything.



Monica Valentinelli is a writer, editor, and game developer. Her portfolio includes stories, games, comics, essays, and pop culture books.

In addition to her own worlds, she has worked on a number of different properties including Firefly, Vampire: the Masquerade, Shadowrun, Hunter: the Vigil, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, and Robert E. Howard’s Conan.

Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore and game store near you.

Want to Interview or Hire Me? Send Fan Mail?

Would you like to hire me? Because my projects and manuscripts are in flux, I am always open to discussing new opportunities with publishers and studios. As a full-time writer, I spend a portion of my time seeking new gigs–so don’t be afraid to reach out. If you’re interested, please e-mail me via my Contact Page. I typically reply to work-related e-mails within one-to-two business days.

Want an interview? If you’d like to interview me or request a guest blog post, please connect with me via the contact page, too. Due to time constraints and other communicative concerns, I typically don’t follow up on requests via social media.

Keen on sending fan mail? I am also happy to engage with readers and fans. Please note that I am unable to reply satisfactorily to certain types of queries related to the companies I work for due to the agreements I typically sign. If you have a question about a TV show or a line of books, the best way to get your answer is to contact the studio or publisher directly.

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