by Karin Beery

Before you agree to edit an author’s manuscript, you need to ask a few questions to make sure you’re providing the best edit in a timely fashion. Of course, you’ll need to know the basics:

  • Fiction or non-fiction?
  • Book or magazine manuscript?
  • Substantive edit, copy edit, or proofread?

You’ll want to ask a few other less-obvious questions so you can be well-informed about the whole project. Before you agree to edit that manuscript, ask your author these things:

  1. Are you self-publishing or seeking traditional publication? If he’s seeking traditional publication, industry standards need to be followed. Technically, those standards should also be followed when self-publishing, but ultimately the author is the final authority on what edits he accepts or declines. If he doesn’t want to use the Oxford comma in his novel, you can’t make him (but you should make sure he knows it’s the industry standard).
  2. Do you already have a publisher (or are you querying a specific publisher)? If the answer to either of those questions is yes, then research that publishing house and familiarize yourself with their style sheet and standards. If that house doesn’t use the Oxford comma for any reason, then leave it out.
  3. Do you have an agent? Similar to the previous question, find out if there’s an agent involved. If there is, see if the agent has any comments or notes that he’d like you to consider while editing.
  4. What’s your deadline? Know whether or not you can make your author’s deadline before you agree to take the project. You won’t help anyone if you agree to edit something you can’t finish.
  5. Can you convert your manuscript? I only edit in Microsoft Word. If I receive something in PDF, I’ll convert it to Word before I edit it. If the author can’t (or won’t) receive the edits in Word format, then we probably won’t work well together. It may seem like an insignificant detail, but it can add a lot of time to the project if you’re learning a new program while editing.
  6. Will you sign my agreement? You need to put together an agreement/contract for your author. That agreement needs to explain exactly what type of edit you’ll provide, how you’ll interact with your client (for example, will you send chapters as you finish them or a completed manuscript; do you allow phone calls or will you only talk via email), the agreed-upon deadline, and—of course—your payment. If your author won’t sign the agreement, that’s a red flag.

By asking these questions before you agree to do the work, you’ll set yourself up to provide the best possible edit for your author’s needs (and that’s a good reputation to have).

Owner of Write Now Editing and Copywriting Services, Karin Beery specializes in fiction and professional business copy. She is an active member of American Christian Fiction Writers and the American Christian Writers Association. A Christian Proofreaders and Editors Network member, she is the Substantive Editing for Fiction instructor for the PEN Institute. Karin is represented by literary agent Steve Hutson at Word Wise Media. You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, or at her website,