Becoming a Freelance Editor: Corrections and Egos

Oct 18, 2013 by

Making Corrections Doesn’t Have to Create Tension. Photo by Cherie Steele of One Oak Farm Paints and Quarter Horses

There are two things that all equestrians must remember if they want to have a good ride:

  1. Always relax!
  2. Never relax!

Here, you might be asking two questions:

  1. What does that even mean?
  2. How does it apply to editing?

Horses are sensitive animals, and they can pick up on tension, causing them to become tense too. So if the rider is relaxed, the horse will relax. But at the same time, the horse has its own set of fears and needs, so the rider has to be prepared for her mount to freak out over something that appears harmless to her, like a plastic bag.

Similarly, writers hire editors to tell them the truth, to point out flaws in their manuscripts, and to make good suggestions for correcting them. So relax and be honest. You are just doing your job.

But at the same time, writers can be sensitive creatures, and some of them tend to view their books as their babies, and they tend to take criticism hard. (These writers need to remember that the book is not a baby. If a writer insists on personalizing the book in this way and is considering publishing, then she needs to realize that the book needs to grow up and become an adult if it is to succeed in the market. [But I still dislike calling a book a baby.]) So editors should never relax and should take care in how they approach corrections.

How to Make Large Scale Corrections: The Correction Sandwich

Laura Daley, my writing partner and the brain behind Riding Fear Free, teaches people to make a correction sandwich, which is far easier to accept than a simple correction. No, Laura didn’t invent the correction sandwich, but she does it perfectly. When I take a riding lesson from her, she can criticize me while simultaneously making me think, “Wow! If I just stop bending my wrists when I ask my horse to put her head down, I’ll be the best rider ever!”

That is the feeling you want to evoke in your writers. After you make a large-scale correction suggestion, you want them to think, “Wow! If I just rewrite this scene so that Mrs. Bennet comes out looking more positive, it’ll be the best scene ever!”


By making a correction sandwich:

  1. Compliment the writer on something they have done well.
  2. Make the correction
  3. Compliment: Immediately follow the correction with another statement of praise.

Example: You do an excellent job of portraying Mrs. Bennet as an emotional, irrational mother, but in this particular scene, she comes off a bit mean-spirited. If you remove some of the negative images of her, then the whole scene will seem as if it came straight from Pride and Prejudice.

How to Make Word Level Corrections

Not every correction requires a correction sandwich. For word-level corrections, it’s best just to be simple and clear.

  • Proofers Marks for Paper: consult the linked chart for standardized proofreader’s marks on paper. Make your marks bold so the writer can find them easily.
  • Corrections Mode for Word: take the time to learn to use corrections mode in Word. This will allow you to add comments (a great place to put correction sandwiches if you need them). It will also make it easy for the writer to assess and accept or reject each correction.

Editors sometimes walk a fine line between making appropriate corrections and offending the writer, but by using the correction sandwich and clear notations in the text, both editors and writers can work together to make the manuscript the best that it can be.


If you’re looking for an Austenesque read this weekend, Caroline Bingley is on sale for .99 cents at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo.

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  1. Sophia Rose

    Good advice for more than just editing. Thank you!

  2. Gotta love the sandwich! I had to do this when I was speaking to parents when I was teaching. I think it applies to so many facets in life, including reviewing and editing. As always, great post, Jennifer.

    • I bet it did come in handy with parents. I mean, writers only call their book their baby, but you were actually dealing with people and their real babies! Talk about potential for drama!

  3. I dislike calling a book a baby too!

    I think this editing series is also a good read for authors because it helps us understand how our editors are trying to help us! Let’s all get on the same page, people ;)

    • As a writer, I try not to be emotionally attached, and I don’t call books babies. But I usually take a full day to think about large-scale correction suggestions because it helps me distance myself from the emotions that may come up from reading feedback.

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