February 25, 2020

Need Advice from an Editor?

Question mark created from type letter stamps with text: Writing Question? How Can We "Ask an Editor"?

Editing is the process of making our words (and sentences, scenes, and story) better. Unless we’re one of those authors who think everything we write is perfect from the moment we first type out the words, we all deal with the process of editing.

Whether we rely on heavy doses of self-editing, beta readers, critique partners, or professional editors, the editing process forces us to take a closer look at what we’ve written. That analysis might leave us with questions our Googling and research can’t answer.

In those times, it can to help to be able to ask a professional editor:

  • What type of editor should we get?
  • Do we have to accept every suggestion from our editor?
  • What does this advice really mean and how do we apply it?
  • Is that advice a strict rule, or can we bend it a bit?

But if we don’t know an editor, how can we get our question answered? Let’s find out… *smile*

Help Is Often All Around Us

Many people love to help others. All we have to do is look around at the hundreds (thousands?) of writing-advice blogs and resources to know that the writing community is blessed with many who offer their help.

Where can we get help with our writing or editing questions? Click To TweetI’ve often said I’m pathologically helpful, and I get many of my ideas for blog posts from questions readers here ask me in comments or through social media or my Contact page. I try to get to as many questions as I can, either with a direct reply or with a blog post if I think others could benefit from the information as well.

But if I’m not available—or if a second (or third or fourth) opinion is desired—where else can we go with our questions?

Find Help from Editors

In one of the Facebook groups I participate in under my editor hat, another member mentioned a group I wasn’t familiar with: Ask a Book Editor.

“Writing a book? Have a question? Ask an Editor!

Post questions you have about the writing process and have them answered by an editor. …

This is a group formed by editors who want writers to receive knowledgeable answers to their writing questions. We welcome fiction, non-fiction, academic and whatever-else-I-missed styles of writing.”

When a group like this has good participation, we can learn from each other, and the Ask a Book Editor group has over 4000 members. Together, we can strengthen our writing skills, which makes us all better advice-takers-and-givers in the future. *smile*

Write Romance? Get Help from Editors

The reason that group came up in our Facebook conversation is because a group of freelance romance editors, led by Sarah Proulx Calfee, started a similar group for writers and editors in the romance genre: Romance Editor Q&A.

Here’s the announcement from Sarah:

“I’ve just created a new group called Romance Editor Q&A. Romance writers can ask questions about writing whether grammatical or structural to editors who specialize in their genre.”

And from the official description:

“Are you writing a romance? Do you have a question? Ask a romance editor.

Are you looking for an editor? Would you like to hire a romance specialist? Check out our listing, updated every month and favoring current availability. We want to help authors find their dream editor. Outside of this posting, no self-promotion is allowed.

Are you looking for beta readers? We offer a weekly post for authors to advertise their beta reader search or to offer to be a beta reader—either as a trade or just because you might want to.”

What Can Directly Talking to Editors Do for Us?

As Sarah mentioned to me on Facebook:

“Along with this Q&A forum and editorial listings, I have some long-term goals in mind that I believe would benefit authors/editors. The first is building trust between the two groups. Authors are often skittish around editors: they sometimes believe we’re pedantic grammar police, or we’re only after their money, or even that we might secretly be trying to rewrite their novels for them.

As an editor, especially when I was just starting out, I was floored by the [backroom editor] online forums and how incredibly helpful editors were in answering all my silly questions. I’d get up to ten really well thought out (and perfectly punctuated) replies. I want authors to experience the level of “help” editors are capable of—and learn, at a gut level, that we are trustworthy and that all we really want to do is be useful to our authors.

As well as answering questions, I thought it would be nice to build a community where authors and editors can also hang out as people united by their love of writing and of romance, which would be yet another aspect of building trust. Once we were more established, I’m planning to create a monthly thread where authors could speak directly to editors about their fears of hiring editors, perhaps even discussing bad experiences they’ve had in the past. And also discussing what positive things have occurred for them since they did hire an editor.

This would give us (editors) an opportunity to address authors’ fears directly, address their bad experiences, and for us learn more about our clients. … We have a rather tricky job: we’re getting hired to fix a thing that an author secretly hopes is already perfect. By learning more about our clients and the way they think (hopes, fears, possible expectations) the better we’ll be at our jobs.”

As both an author and editor, I can confirm from both sides of the fence that editors—at least good editors—just want to help authors make their story idea the best it can be. They want to make our voice stronger, our story and characters more compelling, our goals and motivations clearer, etc. As Sarah said, the more we’re able to open lines of communication between authors and editors, the more we’ll build up that trust and understanding between groups.

Editors Are Eager to Help

Can getting answers to our questions really be as simple as just asking? There are far more helpful people among writers than we might think for such a solitary activity.

How can we pick the brain of editors when we have writing questions? Click To TweetAs I mentioned above, the Ask a Book Editor group has over 4000 members, many of them editors. The new Romance Editor Q&A group is less than a week old and already has almost 200 members, and over 30 editors have volunteered to participate by answering questions.

Also in the Romance Editor Q&A group, other non-editor writers are allowed to chime in, adding their insights or experiences too. Authors can share their advice—about how to interpret their editor’s suggestions or how to find a good editor match or anything else.

Our Experiences Can Be Helpful to Others

Once or twice a year, I do a formal call for guest posts. As part of that call, I point out how we often dismiss how much knowledge we have that might be helpful to others.

The same goes for our knowledge about editing and editors. Once we start the editing process, we all have various experiences that might help others.

So far in the romance group there have been questions about:

  • writing coaches and when they might be a good idea
  • what sentence-order advice means and how to apply it
  • proper grammar for the possessive form of “other”
  • how to indicate a dream sequence
  • how to decide on a heat level of sex and steaminess
  • which type of conflict is meant by the advice to raise the stakes
  • what type of editor to get if you can afford only one
  • how much to worry about troublesome “independent body parts”
  • formatting between paragraphs and scenes
  • exporting from Scrivener to MS Word
  • how much back and forth is normal between authors and editors
  • what elements to include details of in sex scenes

Many of those questions are ones where non-editor authors could add their insights and act as a sounding board or sanity check for other authors as well. And all that has been in just the first few days of the group’s existence.

In other words, help and resources are really just a click away if we know where to look. I love sharing resources for us all to benefit, and if you weren’t aware of the Ask a Book Editor or the Romance Editor Q&A groups before, I hope they can help us all. So come join and pass on these resources to others. *smile*

Do you have un-Googleable questions about writing, or questions where you’d like to ask for many opinions to see if there’s a consensus? Do you have any editor friends you could reach out to with those questions? Or do you wish you could pick the brain of an editor for all topics about writing or editing? Had you heard of either of these groups before? Do you know of any other resources along these lines to share?

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Comments — What do you think?

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Thanks! I just asked to join the Ask a Book Editor group. I don’t usually get on Facebook, so I will see how it goes. Also, you mentioned how us writers can be skittish about editors… I had a really bad experience with one a few years ago. She did give helpful advice but her feedback was so snarky as to be unconstructive. It hurt me so bad that I stopped writing for a year. By snarky, I mean she would insert comments like, “Zzzzzz”, “eye-roll”, or “OMG, enough with the…”. So, needless to say, I’m in the need of another content editor. Also, you mentioned a writing coach. Why haven’t I ever heard of this? I’m assuming this is something like a content editor but provides more help during the writing process rather than after. Where do you find one of those? Should I just ask in the Facebook group you mentioned?

Penni Askew
Penni Askew

Oh, Dawn, I am so sorry that happened to you! I always try to keep my personal comments to things I like, things like “LOL” or a heart sign or smiley face. And because there are places where I will have to suggest a better way to do things or to totally cut a scene, I also try to tell my authors what I think they do well. Or sometimes, show them where they do something well so that when I say later in the MS that I’d like them to do a similar thing, I can point out that yes, they do know how to do that. And then the negative I try to frame as what you can change, what’s not meeting reader expectations. And I know lots of editors who approach it in a similar way. We want to help you make your book shine! I hope you find the right coach and editor the next time.


That style of critique sounds so much better. I’ll be looking for a new content editor soon. I’ll keep you in mind.

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