Building Meaningful Author–Editor Relationships

by Beth McAuley

Published at 2012-08-13

One of the first booklets I read as an editor starting out was Author & Editor: A Working Guide, written by Rick Archbold, Doug Gibson, Dennis Lee, John Pearce, and Jan Walter. These names you may recognize as belonging to Canadian writers and editors. The booklet was published by The Book and Periodical Development Council (1983), and a few years later I purchased a copy through the Editors’ Association of Canada (then the Freelance Editors’ Association of Canada). It was a very worthwhile investment.
One of the most important elements of editing and publishing is the working relationship between author and editor. If it is a good relationship, the arduous task of editing and revising a manuscript is made so much easier. If it is not such a good relationship, the work is made that much more difficult.
This book gave me the essential skills I needed  to ensure that the working relationship with each new author was the best it could be: diplomacy and courtesy; respecting the author’s writing style and voice; keeping an eye on schedules to keep the project on track for both the author and the publisher.
These tools have been put to good use. Over the years I have built a wonderful network of editing relationships with managing editors of academic and trade publishing houses; non-fiction writers; communication managers in businesses; magazine editors and publishers; and academic scholars. Today, I would like to introduce you to one special academic scholar I have been working with since my earlier days and with whom I have built an invaluable long-lasting professional relationship.
Introducing Helene Moussa
I met Helene Moussa in the early 1990s just after she had completed her PhD and was beginning to publish articles about her research in the field of refugee women. She had been referred to me by a professor at OISE with whom I was working on several publishing projects. Helene and I met in a coffee shop to talk over her project, and then she hired me to copy-edit an article that was being published in a scholarly journal.
After this, Helene went to Geneva to work with the World Council of Churches Refugee Desk, and returned to Toronto in 1999. By the time she contacted me a few years after this, Helene was shifting her interest to Coptic art and iconography and was volunteering at St. Mark’s Coptic Museum. One of her first projects in this field was the writing of a pamphlet about an Egyptian artist she had discovered: Marguerite Nakhla, whose artistic works included paintings of Egyptian Coptic icons. The pamphlet was a special project for the museum. It was about 20 pages long and included a few reproductions of Nakhla’s icons. This was about 2004, and it was an exciting educational moment for me, too.
In the years that followed, Helene sent me a longer article she had written about Nakhla’s work, and eventually this was followed by a fully developed book manuscript about the artist. Helene had been busy travelling to Egypt and France tracking down Nakhla’s paintings and completing a biography of her life. The book was going to be published by the museum, and it was a natural extension of our working relationship that I was hired to work on the project.
By then it was 2008 and I had established The Editing Company. I also had hired Nadine Bachan as an editorial assistant. Sometime that fall, Helene, Nadine, and I met and began the long process of working through an editing and proofreading schedule that would coincide with the production and publication of her forthcoming book: Marguerite Nakhla: Legacy to Modern Egyptian Art.
Nadine and I were inspired by Helene’s dedication to the project and to her collaborative relationships not only with us but also with her co-authors Carolyn Ramzy and Fr. Marcos A. Marcos, with the museum, and with the book’s designer Lillian Hanna. We edited the first and second drafts, proofread the galleys, and carefully proofread and cross-referenced the list of reproductions to make sure the details were as perfect as possible.
The book was launched in the fall of 2009. Through Helene’s dedication and passion for her research work, she brought to light the history of this remarkable artist whose legacy is little known in the West. The research and dedication to writing that Helene brought to this project — and to all her projects — are qualities I so admire in her, and in the many authors with whom I work.
Support Is a Two-Way Street
As an editor, it is my foremost job to support an author as we fine-tune her/his writing for publication. If that relationship can take hold and blossom as Helene and my relationship has, then the work of editing becomes so much more rewarding. Support is a two-way street in the editing relationship: supporting Helene as she reached her goals has contributed to Helene supporting me as I have built my editing career.
For Helene and me, this symbiotic relationship has brought us many rewarding moments.