Dealing with clients who make changes while the editor is working on the document

Posted by on Oct 9, 2018 in Blog | No Comments
Dealing with clients who make changes while the editor is working on the document

Having recently worked on a novel of pretty epic proportions, I was distraught to learn the author had been making his own changes while I was working on the document. The book had needed a thorough – almost ruthless – developmental edit.

While working through the manuscript, the writer emailed a set of changes he’d made using the original document and without highlighting his additions and amendments. I begged him to leave the manuscript alone. How could I discern what he had altered? I could not.

Having completed the edit to my satisfaction and setting aside his second set of changes for the time being, I realised with resignation I’d need to go through the book a second time. I set to, and discovered swiftly the timeline was botched: he’d moved chunks of text around so characters popped up when we hadn’t been introduced to them. We had leaves rustling underfoot in July because he’d decided to change the book’s order (the work is a fictional tale of the lead up to the first passenger train in the world, and uses the diary-entry device). He had inserted appearances when I’d fleshed out my own – contradictory – ones.

He’d fiddled with some of my changes: named rivers became lower-case r, when I’d ensured continuity (it’s part of my remit). There were many of these meddlesome changes.


Some emails I sent:

There are so many changes that make a nonsense of the surrounding text.

Please clarify that I am just using the file that has a list of your changes and that you haven’t changed anything else in the other file you sent.

I’m getting mighty confused by this.

Your page numbers on the checklist are different to mine, and I can’t find some of the changes you want me to make.

Plus, does the breaking of the bank REPLACE the February text???

These additions are proving extremely tricky and are taking a lot longer than I anticipated. It’s the same as when you added a slew of stuff a few months’ back.

I don’t have confidence in my edits any more, because the book has been fiddled around with so much. I’m used to editing the version that will be published.

You will need to read EVERY WORD very carefully. I’m really concerned about continuity due to your many changes over the past months.

When the word is unusual, it’s not difficult to locate that word, but when the instruction is ‘Page 29 – change producing to produced’, I’m sorry, I can’t locate which producing you mean.

I’m not sure how we can get around this, other than you going through my most recent changes, either accepting or deleting them and addressing my comments, and then USING TRACK CHANGES, changing the bits you want changing. Then I can have a very quick look through your newest changes.

Such a long process, and I have to say, I’ve never had a more interfering author in my life!

My nerves are in shreds with this book: you’ve changed it so often after I made sure it made sense, then deleted stuff you’d only just added, that I’m not at all confident the plot line is correct – or that characters aren’t answering thin air.


Some emails the author sent:

I’m not touching anything. There are 74 v important changes to make and every time I add sthg or remove sthg you seem to go up the if you dont want to do them and i dont want to touch them work will have to stop, grind to a halt, cease.

I don’t even know why you couldn’t have simply editted the book in the original word file it was in when I first sent you it and why you had to use a Mac and an editing program that’s far too sophisticated for sb like me to understand. I’m not the British Council, I don’t have big budgets and Mac computers.


After a tortuous second edit, I had many queries, which I’d highlighted in the text. By this stage, the author was adamant (and petulant) he would not alter anything further, so set up a crazed system of sending lists of emails with further changes (mostly going back to the way the text was after my first edit, so now the surrounding paragraphs made little sense). Because he uses a PC and I a Mac, his pagination was at odds with mine. He refused to touch the manuscript after my stern admonitions, demanding I find the word or phrase he wanted changing when it could not be located.

The writer realised he could no longer find the changes he’d so carefully listed for me to change.

I’m an editor. He an author. It’s up to him to discern.

He wanted a header.

He didn’t want a header.

He wanted leading at 1.5 per cent.

He demanded leading of 1.25 per cent.

The lesson? Always request proof the author will not work on the manuscript once you have made a start on it.