Editing as a Conversation with Authors

by Beth McAuley

Published at 2021-10-20

In this blog from the archives, we discuss how the exchanges between author and editor become a conversation between the two as a manuscript goes through the editing process, a conversation that benefits both author and editor! 




In the world of editing, the exchange between authors and editors is a conversation, not in spoken words but in written words. It takes place through the editing process when a manuscript exchanges hands at least twice between the editor and the author. It is a conversation that teaches both the editor and the author. The editor learns about the author’s subject, and the author learns how an editor can work behind the scenes to craft the writing on the page, to improve its delivery to the reader.



Like many conversations, this one unfolds in stages.


The Opening

When an editor and an author agree to work together, they agree to enter into a dialogue. It begins when the editor receives the manuscript and starts reading what is written on its pages.


Listening and Engaging

The editor’s listening is in the reading: listening to what the author is saying. Whether it is an academic story, a non-fiction story, or a business story, the author’s voice is explaining, detailing, describing, and informing the editor.


Is the author speaking clearly? Are the ideas connecting well? What is the author’s tone? Where are the nuances and rhythms?


Moving into the flow of the author’s conversation builds the editor’s engagement with the conversation and helps to shape the editor’s responses and feedback.



The editor’s comments and responses take place when correcting a grammatical error, adding a comma to help with clarification, adding a word to strengthen meaning, or deleting a word to avoid confusion. These are subtle nods: yes, I can see your point but … would this comma make the point stronger?


The more assertive engagement is when the editor asks a question or points out a concern in the form of a query. Through the query note, the editor’s voice interweaves with the author’s. The note is diplomatic, respectful. It even addresses the author, either by first name or by the initials AU: I’m not sure I understand what you are saying here. Do you mean this, perhaps?


Or it might be an attempt to strengthen the author’s voice: Does this edit strengthen your point here?


Expressing Disagreement

But what if the editor disagrees with a point the author is making? Or what if something said is problematic? Does the editor interrupt the conversation to raise an objection? Or let it roll on by?


If something is of concern to the editor, it needs to be pointed out and clarified. The query expresses the editor’s interest in understanding the meaning and ensures that the editor (as the reader) isn’t misconstruing the meaning. The interjection might read: I may be misreading what you are saying here, but what I am reading is [insert your take on the point]. Is this what you mean?


Expressing Admiration

And what if the editor is enjoying the author’s work? What if the editor agrees with what is being said or really enjoys the author’s writing style? Authors appreciate positive feedback. If the writing is exciting and original, innovative and informative, an editor is welcome to say so. An author’s writing is a product of extensive effort. A positive comment, without it being over-the-top enthusiasm, contributes to the energy of the conversation.


The Feedback

Once the editing is completed, the editor will send the manuscript back to the author. It is akin to mailing a letter and waiting for a response. It could take a few weeks, but the manuscript will come back, and the author will have responded to the queries.


There are acceptances to suggested changes, and there are explanations why a change is not being accepted. There are thank-yous for suggestions, and there are explanations to the editor’s queries. This exchange is a one-on-one with the author who is explaining the more subtle points of the argument in the text. It is an exchange of trust and understanding.  


The Closing

Incorporating the changes and revisions into the final draft brings the conversation to a close.


While it may not be noticed by the reader, this exchange of ideas is woven into the manuscript and has helped to make it that much better.


These behind-the-scene exchanges can make the editing experience both engaging and rewarding. And the editor knows they can look forward to having many of them over the course of their career. 





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