When to Reject Your Editor

Last time I mentioned that when working in Track Changes with an editor, you should accept most, if not all, of the editor’s changes. It should go without saying, but listen to what your editor has to say.

Yes, there are bad editors who will try to impose their voice and vision over your own. And some editors have a tin ear—a writer at a conference once told me her copyeditor had replaced every gonna and coulda with going to and could have. When faced with those kinds of changes, reject away, kiddo.

At a conference last year, I heard Orson Scott Card say he had once received a manuscript back from a copyeditor who was apparently unfamiliar with science fiction and had therefore made hundreds of changes that ruined his story. The damage was so severe that he sent a copy of his original back to the acquiring editor and demanded a new copyeditor, because the first had fouled up the manuscript so badly that the job had to be started over.

Bad editing does happen. If you don’t trust your editor to give you good advice, then you need a new editor.

editor rejection

Illustration © tumsasedgars • Fotolia

But most editors I know—and I know a lot of editors specializing in multiple topic areas—have your best interests and those of your readers in mind. They will only make changes that make your text more clear and readable. So keep an open heart and mind as you review your editor’s changes to your manuscript. Those changes are most likely there not for the editor’s self-aggrandizement, but so you can deliver a better book to your readers.

Too often editors encounter writers who refuse to make recommended changes. In one recent case, a colleague asked how to handle a client whose narrative was disjointed but who refused the editor’s advice for restructuring the plot on the grounds that beta readers had not seen any such problems.

We acknowledged that the story belongs to the author, who therefore bears final responsibility for the quality of the finished product. We can’t force the writer to make changes.

But if you are paying an editor to advise you and then you reject the advice, what are you paying for?

Beta readers, while very helpful, are not trained editors, so they can miss things editors will see. Also, a beta reader may feel that something in the manuscript is lacking, but they will not have the knowledge to figure out what it is or why is a problem. They may not have the vocabulary to describe the problem in a meaningful way. So they won’t bring it up at all, since they can’t explain themselves.

When your editor suggests a well-reasoned change, consider it carefully, at least a little while. Play out in your mind the ramifications of that change. You may decide that implementing the suggestion would change your story or its presentation in ways that are not acceptable to you. If you can articulate to your editor a compelling reason why you’ve chosen to refuse a particular suggestion, that’s fine.

For example, my client Shirin Humzani, in her book The Education of Amal, chose not to say where the story was set. When I recommended she specify at least a region, if not a city, she explained that she wanted the story to appeal to people from either eastern Pakistan or western India. So she deliberately left the setting vague. That was a valid reason for making her artistic choice.

But the writer who rejected her editor’s restructuring advice is refusing professional guidance in favor of amateur opinion. The most likely explanation for such a refusal is that the author is not willing to do the hard work of restructuring, so instead of following her editor’s recommendation, she is falling back on her beta readers to rationalize her decision.

When you’re deciding whether to reject an editor’s advice, your primary consideration should not be how the choice will affect your workload or your ego. Your primary consideration should be what will produce a book that will be most engaging for readers.


Disclosure of Material Connection: The Amazon link above is an affiliate link. This means if you click on the link and purchase Shirin’s book, I will receive a pittance of a commission from Amazon. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Editing Your Book with Track Changes

When you work with an editor on your book, you will probably use the Track Changes feature in Microsoft Word. This can be a little daunting if you’ve never used it before, especially when you get a file back with more red on it than Sweeney Todd’s apron.

First, don’t panic. Remember your editor is there to help you, and those red marks are meant to be instructive, not destructive.

Schedule a time when you can go through your manuscript slowly. If there‘s a change you don’t understand, feel free to ask. For example, one client asked why I had replaced e-mail with e‑mail, since she had in fact hyphenated it. I explained that I had replaced the regular hyphen with a nonbreaking hyphen so that if the word fell at the end of a line, the e‑ wouldn’t be stranded by itself.

Reject or change the edits you don’t like, and leave the ones you approve of. You should have many more approvals than rejections—like, 20 to 1. If you are rejecting more than 5 percent of your editor’s suggestions, there’s a bigger problem to address than how to use Track Changes. More on that next time.

Using Word Track Changes

Save time by accepting all changes at once.

If you’re sending your manuscript back to the editor for a second pass, leave the Tracked Changes and comments in place. That lets them see everything you’ve done in context with their original edit. Often if we’ve worked on other manuscripts since the last time we saw yours, we may not remember what the original text said, what changes we made, or what we asked you to fix. So leaving all those changes and notes gives us the background we need to assess your latest revision.

Once you and your editor agree that the editing is finished and you’re ready to submit the manuscript to agents and editors (or to send to a typesetter or Kindle converter), you can use the Accept All Changes command to clear all the approved edits at once. You’ll find this command in Ribbon’s Review tab, under the pull-down menu of the Accept button.

You’ll also need to delete all the comments from the manuscript. This command is also in the Review tab, under Comments. There’s a New button to create a new comment, and a Delete button for deleting comments once you’ve addressed whatever issue they brought up. The Delete button also has a drop-down menu, where you’ll find the Delete all Comments command.

Note that my screen shot is from Word for Mac 2011. Microsoft seems to delight in moving commands around from one version to the next and from one platform to the other, so that no two versions of any Office app are entirely the same. So use a bit of Google-fu to get what you need. Start your search terms with your operating system, then your version of Word, then the thing you’re trying to find. I might, for example, search for Mac Word 2011 nonbreaking hyphen. Hypothetically.

Microsoft Word is often accused of feature bloat, and it does contain myriad functions some of us will never use. But its powerful change tracking and commenting features are the main reason it is still the standard software for writing and editing books. If you plan a career as a writer, you’ll do well to take advantage of these features.


Let me know if further teaching on this would interest you. I’m thinking a screencast may be called for. What do you think?