Working with an editor can be a daunting task for many writers, especially if it’s their first time having their work edited by a professional.
You can make the process less intimidating and earn the writer’s trust by letting them know that you’re a coach, not a judge, and that you’ll be working alongside them to make their writing the best it can be.
Your queries go a long way toward making or breaking this cooperative relationship. If the queries are vague and harshly worded, the author will see you as the enemy. If they’re helpful and kind, the author will see you as an ally.
Here are the three essential elements of author queries:
Every time you write a query, put yourself in the writer’s shoes. Is your question or comment clearly worded, thoughtful, and sensitive? Is it addressing the written work, or the person?
To make sure your tone remains helpful and focused on the work, not the writer, try taking out all instances of the words “I” and “you.”
Before: This is wrong; you’re using the idiom incorrectly. It’s also a cliché, which I would avoid.
After: This idiom is usually written as “kick the bucket,” but the alternative wording suggested here matches the thoughtful, serious tone of the paragraph and also avoids cliché.
Avoid vague, one-word commands like “revise” or “rewrite.” If a paragraph or section needs a complete revision and you’d like to have the author handle it (rather than rewriting it yourself), make sure you’re being specific about what needs to change.
After: This paragraph jumps from Grumpy Cat’s kittenhood to her current health problems and then back to her kittenhood. Think about grouping the parts about her younger days together, and then transitioning into the present day. This will help readers understand the timeline and make more sense of Grumpy Cat’s story.
Temper your queries with compliments to lighten the mood and make the querying process feel less like a police interrogation and more like a conversation.
Before: Huh? I don’t have any idea what you’re trying to say here.
After: This section is a bit vaguely worded, whereas the paragraphs preceding it are very clear and concise. Here’s a suggestion for how to make this part more specific, which will help your audience understand your point.
I know what you’re thinking: “When I’m editing, I’m working as quickly as I can! I don’t have time to write thoughtfully crafted queries.” But writing tactful queries actually saves you time and effort, since your queries will build trust, reduce the number of follow-up questions you receive from the author, and lead the author to take your suggestions rather than becoming defensive or stubborn.