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5 Essential Questions Romance Editors Should Ask Their Clients

Updated 23 February 2024

Just as there's no perfect way to write a romance novel, there's no perfect way to edit one, either. Every romance editor has a different way of doing things, but there are a few key details every editor needs to know about a project to understand not just how they should approach its edit, but whether they're a good fit for the project. Read on for 5 of the most essential questions.

Romance Editor Question #1: Ask if the book has any triggers.

Just like readers, most editors have certain types of stories, or story elements, they can't work on because of how those stories or elements affect them and their wellbeing. I know I do! And though many of us have our triggers listed on our websites, it's a good idea to include them in new client questionnaires/ initial communications with prospective clients, because sometimes people genuinely don't realize something is triggering, and many clients aren't aware that content warnings are necessary for editors. The key to longevity in romance editing is loving what you do, and a big part of that is loving what you edit. That means avoiding any stories that make you feel unsafe or negatively affect your mental health.

Romance Editor Question #2: Ask how long the manuscript is.

This question is important not only for scheduling, but also for finding out whether the manuscript is finished. Some editors will only take on editing projects with manuscripts that are completed at the time the client contacts them; this allows the editor to more accurately plan how long the edit will take because they have the exact word count.

Other editors (myself included) are happy for authors to continue working on the manuscript right up until the date they send it through for the edit; we don't mind if a manuscript is a little longer or shorter than the author initially estimates. Personally, I always include cushions in my schedule for my chronic illness anyway, so my schedule is more flexible. If a manuscript is 10,000 words more or less than the author intended, it's not an issue.

Finding out the length is also an important factor in deciding if you're the right editor for a project; if you've never edited anything over 10,000 words, then a 100,000-word manuscript might be too big of a jump right now. Conversely, if you don't have experience editing novellas, which are usually paced differently than a full-length novel, it's important to consider that when booking a project.

Romance Editor Question #3: Ask how much angst the author wants in their story.

"Angst" in romance means the depth of internal conflict that the book's main characters experience as they fall in love with each other. Some books, especially those called "cozy" or the more descriptive "low angst", feature little to no internal or external conflict. External conflict refers to outside events that affect the romance, like a tornado threatening a main character's life, or a main character being called up for active duty.

Romance novels with low angst don't have third act break-ups usually, which means they need a different main event to focus on in the book's final act that wraps up both the romance and character development arcs in a way that still leaves readers feeling satisfied with the happy ending.

That's why it's essential that you as a romance novel editor know in advance what level of angst your author is trying to achieve—you don't want to tell them to amp up the drama of the third act if they're going for a softer story.

Romance Editor Question #4: Ask which tropes the author incorporated into the story.

Readers are becoming increasingly vocal about the way they expect authors to handle their favorite tropes, and won't hesitate to express displeasure when those tropes aren't used properly.

For this reason, it's imperative that you know which tropes an author is using so you can read the manuscript with those tropes in mind and assess how they contribute to the story, if they are fully realized, and if they're in line with readers' expectations.

And if you're not familiar with a trope, like amnesia—which isn't as popular as it used to be—knowing the tropes going in gives you time to do some research so you come to the edit with the knowledge you need to accurately assess its trope usage.

Romance Editor Question #5: Ask if the book is part of a series.

Zoe York was right when she said in her book Romance Your Brand that for most romance authors, the best way of gaining and maintaining a readership is with a series. But why is it important for you as an editor to know if a manuscript is part of a series? Because you need to know if part of your edit should include evaluating the strength of the book's connection to an overall series setting, cast of characters, or theme.

For a series connected by setting, you need to check that all the setting details in each book are consistent and evocative. If you're editing a first in a series, this might take the form of creating notes in your style sheet on specific setting details you know will be reused across the series.

For a series connected by a cast of characters, you'll need to check that the main characters in the book you're editing are tied in some way to characters from the previous book/s in the series, or future books. For example, an author might include a secondary character in Book 1 that they plan to turn into a main character in Book 2, but to get readers excited about the story, that side character will need to be an integral enough part of Book 1's story to stick out in readers' minds.

And for series connected by theme, such as second chance romance or Christmas romance, you have to make sure that theme is adequately represented in each book.

I get all these answers from clients via a simple PDF questionnaire I created in Canva. It took about 30 minutes to make and has saved me so much time, compared to asking authors to answer my questions over email. You can do the same in Word or Google; there are lots of free templates out there you can personalize with your own branding colors.

Until the next blog post, happy reading and editing!


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