Tool 20: Working With an Editor

Many authors come away from publishing a book or other printed piece shaking their heads (or their fists) over the way things went with the editor. It doesn’t have to be that way. At its best, editing is a collaborative partnership between the author and editor. Both parties share an important goal: To make the finished product as clear and useful to the learner as possible. This tool is designed to offer hints for making your life as an author easier as you work with an editor.

Text Preparing the Manuscript

  • When you deliver the manuscript to the editor, the manuscript should be finished. It should represent the very best work you are capable of producing. It may still have rough spots that need to be worked out; that is, after all, why you’re giving it to an editor. But you should be confident that you have done everything you possibly could to present a publishable manuscript to the editor.
  • Give the editor a hard copy of the manuscript that is printed on one side of an 8½-inch by 11-inch sheet, double-spaced, with 12-point type and 1-inch margins all the way around. Page numbers (centered at the bottom of the page) are nice, too. (This is the standard page format on which editors base their editing time estimates.) A page formatted like this usually contains 250 to 300 words.
  • Provide a copy of the manuscript on disk, too. The disk should contain only the final version of the manuscript files. (No meeting minutes, correspondence on other topics or false starts of chapters, please!) Give the editor a sheet with the names of all files on the disk and the name and version of the word-processing software you used. Don’t worry too much if you and the editor don’t use exactly the same word-processing software. The editor will probably be able to find a way to open your file. (And the graphic designer will feed it into a different program altogether when laying it out for publication.)
  • Share as much information about your curriculum project - including audience, budget, ideal timeline and goals - with the editor as possible. Having this information up front will help the editor work efficiently and effectively.
  • Give the editor complete information on how to contact you, including your office address and phone number, your e-mail address, the best days and times to contact you, and a rough idea of when you might be out of the office for extended periods, such as for a conference, vacation or sabbatical.
  • Provide a list of any previously published material you’d like to reprint or adapt in your curriculum. The list should include as much information as you have on the material, including the author, the title of the work, the page numbers of the material you wish to reprint or adapt, the copyright date and copyright holder, the copyright holder’s address and the publisher’s name and address. (A photocopy of the original material would make the editor’s job a little easier, too.) The editor is responsible for securing permission to reprint or adapt previously published material.
  • Make sure that all references cited in the work appear in the bibliography, and vice versa. Provide complete information for all bibliography entries.
  • If your manuscript includes tables and charts, make sure they’re clearly labeled and that no data is missing. Each table or chart must be referred to in the text.
  • If your manuscript includes figures, make sure you’ve referred to each one in the text, and provided source material for the designer or illustrator to work from (see Working With a Designer for additional information).
  • Provide complete contact information (including up-to-date Internet addresses) for all organizations, commodity groups, breed associations, government agencies and businesses you’ve mentioned in the manuscript.
  • Give the editor a complete list of all the authors, contributors, donors and others who may need to appear in the credits (see Preparing the Credits for more information).

After the Editor Has Your Manuscript

  • When the editor contacts you for more information or advice about how to handle something in the manuscript, respond to the query as quickly as you can. One frequent cause of production timeline derailments is the author’s failure to respond to the editor’s queries.
  • Remember that, ideally, every manuscript would be its editor’s number one priority, but unfortunately, that can’t be true. There just aren’t enough hours in the day. It doesn’t hurt to check with the editor periodically to see how the job is coming, but calling twice a day to ask whether the job is done yet will distract the editor and slow the editing process.

When the Manuscript Returns to You

  • Review the manuscript and the editor’s suggested changes as thoroughly and as quickly as possible. No one likes to play "hurry up and wait," particularly not an editor who has juggled multiple projects and deadlines only to see a manuscript that was supposedly a rush job sit untouched on an author’s desk for weeks.
  • Remember that you have the right to question the editor’s editing. Speak up if you disagree with or need more information about any changes he or she has made.
  • Understand that for the most part, this is your last chance to change the text. Author changes after this stage become progressively more expensive and more damaging to project timelines.


  • Bay Area Editors’ Forum (1999). What do editors do? Definitions of editorial services ( The [San Francisco] Bay Area Editors’ Forum is an association of in-house and freelance editors from a variety of publishing and publications settings. Their Web site offers information on the definitions of editorial services, editors and publishing today, and the stages of publishing.
  • Stoughton, M. (1997). "Editing a moving target" ( The Editorial Eye. Alexandria, VA: EEI Communications.
  • Van Buren, R. and Buehler, M. F. (1991). The levels of edit. Arlington, VA: Society for Technical Communication ( This book outlines a system for editing copy and defines the various stages of editing by the amount of work involved.

"At its best, editing is a collaborative partnership between the author and editor. Both parties share an important goal: To make the finished product as clear and useful to the reader as possible."

"Editors are professional idiots. We misunderstand text so our readers won’t."
- Ian Woofenden, associate editor, Home Power magazine

Last Updated: July 29, 2009; Last Reviewed: April, 2009
© Copyright 2008 Michigan State University.