EDITOR KNOWHOW The Editor-Author Relationship


Our Editor KnowHow continues with Simran Kaur Sandhu, Editor at Macmillan Children's Books offering a closer look at the editing process and the editor-author relationship. 

So you’ve battled through the submissions inbox, won the support of a kick-ass agent and bagged a coveted publishing contract with an editor that really believes in your work. What next? 

Of course, every editor has a different editorial style and every book gets its own laser-focused tailored approach, but hopefully this should cover some fairly universal basics.

The Role of the Editor
An editor's role, as I understand it, is to figure out what the author wants to accomplish and help them achieve it as clearly and successfully as possible. Usually, during the acquisitions process, we’ll tell you the big ideas we have and once you’ve signed the contract, those ideas become the start of an open discussion, not (as some people might think) instructions we give you that you need to carry out.

The Dream Team
The best thing about the editorial process is having someone to bounce off: you and your editor are the dream team. Everything is a suggestion or an opportunity to brainstorm a new idea. We’ll ask you the right questions to get you thinking like your reader, gently nudge you towards stronger character arcs, thorough world building, foolproof timelines, and really assess the structure of the book and what moments might need a little extra support to have the impact you want them to have. 

We start with the big structural changes. You’ll get an editorial letter that outlines the main things that need work and the big suggestions, alongside a word doc of your manuscript with slightly more detailed comments and tracked changes. Sometimes we’ll suggest some changes that you don’t like and it’s really important that you say no and ask to go back to the drawing board. Usually, edits are followed by a nice long chat or call where you can ask all the questions you want and push back on the things you don’t want to change, and it’s in these calls that the real magic happens. I’ve had four-hour long editorial meetings, six-hour long poetry editorial sessions and 20-minute calls just to clear up a few things. Whatever you need to get from your conversations, you’ll have all the information you need to really get stuck in and you’ll have a clear vision of what the manuscript needs to look like.

You’ll then be given a deadline and left to crack on, but if you ever get stuck on something you can always reach out to your editor to bounce around some ideas. When your editor is doing the next round of edits, it’s really important you get some time away from your book. Manuscript blindness is very real, and you’ll find that after getting some distance, you’ll come back refreshed and with a clearer vision of what you want to achieve. If you’ve signed up for a series of books in quick succession, it’s usually helpful, once you know where the first book is going, to start cracking on with the second one.

We're Going on an Artist Hunt...
If your book is going to be illustrated, the hunt for an artist to bring your book to life will happen during the editorial process, and you’ll be able to pitch in every step of the way. Remember: this is your baby. No one is going to force you to do anything you don’t want to do, and your editor is always going to fight to make sure your voice is heard and your authenticity is protected, so don’t be afraid to let them know when something has bothered you, or if you need to go in a different direction for something. Editing is a push and pull process.

Your 'Go-to', and also
It’s also worth remembering that your editor is your go-to person in-house, but they are also the go-to person for everyone else in the company for your book, so sometimes things might have to change to make the book work for international sales or rights, like making it slightly less British-centric wherever it doesn’t impact plot or anything important. They’ll never be big changes, but worth keeping in mind that those small things might need to change.

Check, check and check again
Each edit will become more focused and detailed as the big structural stuff gets fixed and you and your editor are able to look at line-level details - sense checks, dialects, jokes, etc - and then it’ll be passed onto a copy-editor, be set and sent to a proofreader and possibly also a sensitivity reader if that needs to be part of the process. All of these stages are run past you for you to veto any changes they’re suggesting.

Your editor bought your book because they believe in your voice and your story. I know that editing can sometimes be the worst thing in the world, but if you let yourself, I think you can actually enjoy it! Have fun, be honest about your time commitments and what you don’t want to change and I promise you, your book is going to be a thing of beauty.

Main images by Ian Schneider

Sim is an Editor at Macmillan Children's Books with a focus on YA fiction and poetry. She is the first Literature Coordinator for Asian Woman Festival, a lover of spoken word poetry, a supporter of inclusive children's literature and advocate for fat acceptance. Sim spends her free time practising self-love, sometimes by dancing at the Curve Catwalk, but mostly by reading enemies-to-lovers fantasy. You can find her on Twitter @SimKSandhu and Instagram @simksandhu_.

Do you have any suggestions for KnowHow? If there's something you'd like to know how to do or know more about, tell us. Email KnowHow editor, Eleanor at knowhow@britishscbwi.org

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