Writers On Writing / The empowering act of editing, with Alexandra Nahlous


We chatted to leading editor Alexandra Nahlous ahead of her Manuscript Assessment sessions, on Saturday 16 May, about the role of editing in the writing process.


How do you think feedback from a professional editor benefits a writer?

A professional editor’s feedback focuses on pinpointing where a manuscript needs strengthening. Too often, when friends or colleagues read a manuscript, they focus on what they don’t like in the work. This doesn’t help a writer because the advice can be too subjective, contradictory, and it can lack cohesive direction for how to proceed with reworking.

A professional editor identifies what isn’t working for that manuscript, the reasons why, and potential solutions to help progress the work. An editor’s opinion is critique, not criticism, and it’s driven by finding a way forward for the manuscript, which is empowering for the writer. 

You have two decades of editing and publishing experience, in this time you have worked as a senior editor for Allen & Unwin, a fiction publisher at Pan Macmillan Australia and now as a freelance editor for major and independent publishers, agents, and directly with authors. What has kept you so passionate about editing for all these years?

I’ve always had an exceptional love of writing and language, and this has never changed. If anything, it’s grown deeper and more fulfilling as I’ve delved deeper into the many facets of editing and writing. I suppose editing for me is as much a passion – a vocation – as it is a career. And every book, every story is different and requires a readjustment of what you think you know, and it’s a constant challenge to uncover how to help the work evolve. 

At what stage in the development of their manuscript should a writer seek a professional editor’s advice on their work-in-progress?

A writer can seek a professional editor’s advice at any stage. They can ask for an initial read of the first few chapters if they want to check whether the writing is developed and captivating enough. This is great for writers who’ve never had work critiqued or published.

If the writer is confident that the writing is well developed, then send a whole manuscript to an editor, for an assessment, particularly if it’s only a first or second draft. This will give the writer an excellent picture of how the story is working overall, and where the big issues are.

Save a structural edit for a manuscript that you have reworked and feel you have taken as far as you’re able to on your own. 


Alexandra looking away from the camera, up at a stained glass ceiling

Alexandra Nahlous is a leading freelance book editor, with twenty years’ experience in editing and publishing. She is known in the publishing industry for her expertise in commercial fiction, including women’s fiction, young adult and junior fiction, and literary fiction. She has edited bestselling and award-winning novels, and in 2009-10, she won the Beatrice Davis Editorial Fellowship, Australia’s most prestigious arts award for editors. She is also a highly experienced non-fiction editor, a content producer, a teacher of editing and workshop presenter.

Manuscript Assessment at Writing NSW in Sydney

Manuscript Assessments sessions will be run by phone or Skype for the foreseeable future. Book your session here>>


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