Last night, I had the opportunity to speak to members of the Peterborough twig (chapter-to-be) of the Editors' Association of Canada on the topic of writer-editor relations. (Thanks for the great topic suggestion, Jane Davidson.)
I offered the following bits of advice to my audience of editors on how to be the kind of editor writers love.
Introduce yourself to the writer and give the writer a sense of who you are as a person and a writer. Many writers are terrified of editors. If you can show the writer your human side and give the writer a sense of how you like to work, the writer will be more at ease and better able to do her best work for you.
In the case of a magazine assignment, be as specific as possible about your vision for the story. What key questions should the writer be addressing? What types of sources are preferred? What are the unwritten do's and don'ts at your publication?
Give the writer enough time to write the best possible story for you. Allow her to make contact with those hard-to-pin-down story sources, to think through the best way to tell the story, and to benefit from the changes you suggest during the editing process.
Help the writer to understand that you both share the same goal: making the story sparkle. Provide feedback about what is working as well as what isn't working. Provide encouragement as well as constructive criticism.
Respect the sanctity of the author-editor relationship. The relationship is based on mutual trust. A writer needs to feel supported by her editor on crucial editorial and contract matters.
If a writer has done an amazing job on a story, let her know. She'll be inspired to want to work with you on an ongoing basis. You'll get first dibs on her best ideas and she'll do that extra bit of research that makes a story great as opposed to merely good because she knows you notice and you care.