As a nonprofit communicator, you might be responsible for managing your organization’s blog, newsletter or magazine. You might be juggling multiple relationships with authors and other types of contributors daily to deliver the written products you manage.

When your editor-author relationships (as I will refer to them for simplicity) are working like well-oiled machines, your review/revision process is straightforward and you are most effective. But perhaps from time to time, you run into an obstacle such as a disagreement with an author on content, or a misunderstanding. Even if it’s all smooth sailing for you, perhaps you are simply unaware of how to make the very most of your editor-author relationships.

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Tips for ensuring successful editor-author relationships

This post aims to unpack some of the common challenges that editors and other nonprofit communicators encounter in their work with authors and other contributors, including breaking through editorial impasses and navigating varying expectations that authors have of you. The ideas that follow reflect three core principles — trust, flexibility, and transparency — which I believe will help you make the most of your interactions with authors.

Vary your channels of communication

It is natural for people to disagree on ideas, wording, and other elements of a text. But sometimes disagreements between editor and author disrupt progress toward finalizing a text — and leave a sour taste in your mouth. How can you break through an editorial impasse?

As the initiator of the relationship, it is the editor’s job to set the tone for a cordial working relationship based on teamwork and transparency, from the very first contact. If despite this you find yourself at an editorial impasse with an author, remind yourself — and the author — that you are both interested in producing a text that reflects well on those who were involved in its production.

Then consider what I call taking the conversation outside, or engaging authors in creative and informal ways to finalize a text. Take a break from the document itself and change your channels of communication about edits. A change of scenery will help you and the author focus more on ideas and content, instead of on convincing each other to accept a point of view. For example: Ask the author a content-related question over email or on the phone, not in the document itself.

Email, phone calls, and even chat platforms (if your professional setting lends itself to this and your authors like using them, like many of mine do) are less formal and more disarming than comments and edits in a word processor. Some benefits of engaging with authors via one of these alternatives include:

  • A channel for sharing more candid and lucid responses.
  • A way to work through differences more directly and efficiently.
  • Plenty of opportunities to produce direct quotes that would help improve the draft (always ask permission from the author if you want to quote an off-the-record conversation with them in their work).
  • A direct channel for establishing a personal connection and trust.
  • A way to understand and work with authors’ expectations of an editor

Some authors are deeply attached to their words and prefer that editors use the tracked changes function for transparency. Others prefer just receiving top-line comments on what needs to be improved, and to handle edits on their own. Still, others feel rather unconfident in their writing skills and are relieved to have your hands-on help to edit their piece, perhaps even rewrite entire passages for them.

The point is that editors would do well to demonstrate flexibility in terms of workflow, adapting how you proceed with the editorial process as a function of the author’s expectations from you.

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Need help thinking about your process differently? Answer these questions

Not all editors are willing or able to be flexible with workflow, but it is helpful to at least brainstorm areas where you can exercise greater flexibility than you currently are (i.e. during the conception phase, how you communicate your edits, etc.). Some questions to get you started are:

How would you describe your most commonly used editing process?

Write down each step, then go back and brainstorm alternatives for each. Ask trusted authors for some ideas if you’re stumped.

Example: I ask the author via email to submit a blurb describing the proposed content of his/her article. I review the blurb and email the author my feedback.

Alternative: I schedule a 15-minute call with the author to discuss the ideas the author wishes to convey in the article before drafting begins.

What is your preferred platform for completing edits?

Example: I usually suggest edits in tracked changes and comments.

Alternative: I read the author’s draft then write or explain over the phone my general impressions and feedback to the author.

What factors went into determining the deadline for a first draft, a revised draft?

Example: I usually base deadlines on a standard amount of time I give all authors for turning in their first drafts.

Alternative: I offer two deadline options, including an earlier date with an incentive attached, such as the author’s article being featured in the top slot of the next newsletter.

Make the most of your interactions with authors

How can editors bring their relationships with authors to the next level?

First, by keeping in touch with past authors, even if you won’t be working on a text with them in the foreseeable future. Don’t love ‘em and leave ‘em because they may have newfound assets and potential for continuing engagement with your nonprofit. You are well-positioned to get a good sense of authors’ skills, networks, and other qualities that can be fruitful for your nonprofit (for example as quality applicants, participants, and brand ambassadors).

This also means you are well-placed to identify and propose ways for authors to grow their engagement with your nonprofit, such as registering for webinars, attending events, and applying for jobs, and internships. The sky is the limit.


So go ahead, pick up the phone today and call two current or past authors. Check in with them on how your collaboration has been going or went, and if there’s anything they’d like to share about it. Let them know what you think or thought about their work, and offer encouragement of some shape or form. And don’t forget to point out a recent opportunity or resource from your nonprofit that may be of interest to them!

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Amber French

Amber French

Amber French is Editorial Advisor at the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, where she launched and now manages ICNC Press and its acclaimed Monograph series. Amber led the development of the Nonviolent Conflict News site (NVCNews.org) and of the Minds of the Movement blog, for which she is now co-editor. She is currently based in Paris, France.
Amber French
Amber French

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