Managing Your Authors: How to Handle 'em and When to Wrangle 'em

Date: Tuesday, January 10, 2012
Forum organizers: David Couzens, Mireille Majoor, and Jill O'Nan
Summary notes: Tessa Hearn

During our last BAEF South Bay forum gathering, we explored the editor-author collaborative process from the standpoint of the author. Now it's time to flip the discussion around and focus on this topic from the editor's perspective in a facilitated member discussion.

Setting expectations

There is a misconception with writers as to what editors do, so questions to ask at outset:

  • Are you looking for a proofreader?
  • Is the book ready for copyediting?
  • Is it a draft?
  • Do you want developmental editing?

The term "editor" can mean anything from proofreader to ghostwriter. Explain the terminology. The Definitions of Editorial Services on the BAEF website are useful for this.

Face-to-face contact with the author is not critical but clarifying expectations is, even with experienced writers. This is also important for costing purposes.

Clarify how the work will be done—via track changes, embedding in text, etc.—and using which software. Noncompatible software can cause headaches.

Who provides the style guide?

  • Publishing house: use theirs.
  • Individual client: agree to it with the client.

Educate client if necessary. Send one sample edited page to check that it's what the client wants. This also shows what you can do for the money.

Client's previous experience with editors will influence how they interact with you.

Fee: by page or hourly?

  • Companies: larger budgets may allow for charging higher fees.
  • Hourly: more fair as it doesn't penalize good writers (i.e., a well-written document requires less editorial intervention and so good writers will pay less).
  • By the page: you win on some, you lose on some, but it balances out overall.
  • Rate depends on client, private or corporate. Hi tech can be $80/hr.
  • Second-language writers' work takes longer. If the client is a journal, they may send it to be cleaned up linguistically before final editing.
  • Include rider in contract to cover unforeseen events or situations. Another rider can be included in case more work is needed at the end of the project than expected.

Establishing workflow

  • Agree on tools and timeflow with client.
  • Advantages of InDesign and pdfs: it's not as easy for authors to rewrite text.
  • Comes a time with the work when you have to call it a day.
  • Editors need to get comfortable with online editing, e.g., Google cloud.

Some clients have MS Word-like templates to ensure standard format. Corporations with complex review cycles can avoid different comments on different versions if all users are using the same version.

Time frames

  • Be proactive. A cheerful, weekly phone call enquiring about progress and offering help establishes a regular relationship. Client can bounce ideas off you.
  • Be a benevolent dictator.
  • Some authors will disappear despite all efforts.

Handling disagreement

  • Pick your battles.
  • In a dispute with the author, the fee-payer has the last word.
  • When working with a company, establish who the head person is, who you need to impress and satisfy.
  • Make the case for your edits to improve the project. Don't make it personal.
  • Present yourself as the reader's advocate, reading the material for the first time. How can the text be presented in the best way to the audience/reader? Offer an alternative where possible to achieve the aim.

Wrapping things up

You should have clarified in the contract how many reiterations you are prepared to do.

If there is more work to do than you are contracted for, the dynamic is different depending on the client and the contract.

  • If you are paid by the hour, OK.
  • With a company client, get them to pay for the work up to then and add more for the remaining work.
  • You should also have established how perfect the work needs to be, whether it is for an outside client or internal audience.


  • If you ask, you may not get a satisfactory answer.
  • If clients contact you for more work, presumably they are satisfied.
  • Journals have formal evaluation.
  • Some clients are not equipped to judge the quality of the editing.
  • Suggestion: Have clients compare your edited text with the original.
  • Suggestion: Ask for three positive and three negative points.

* * * * *
Tessa Hearn is a freelance editor in the South Bay, specializing in educational material. She knows all about trying to get authors to write what is required and meet tight deadlines. She recuperates in her Californian native garden with her two cats.



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