Monday, February 10, 2014

Editor's Notes #8: Is This Editor a Good One? Part 2

Last week, I posted the first half of "Is This Editor a Good One?" It seems that although an editor may not be hard to locate, finding a good one is an entirely different matter. If you missed the first part, you can read it here, and find out why pricing isn't always an obvious choice of "cheap v. expensive;" why asking around is a good start; why it's a good idea to look at samples of the editor's work; and why it's essential to contact the authors an editor has worked with.

If you've done all the above steps, you should have a narrowed-down list of editors who may fit into your budget, are recommended by their authors, and whose work looks good. 

The next move?

If you're considering a specific editor, he should be able to give you an evaluation or sample edit of roughly 1000 words of your manuscript. This will show you whether your editor is eagle-eyed, unobservant, pushy, uninformed, or well-versed in the rules of grammar and punctuation.

I suggest getting at least three to five evaluations and comparing them. It's good to note the similarities, because they may be pointing out things that will help you to improve as a writer overall. It's also good to notice the differences. Why did this editor use a comma here, and another used a semicolon? Are both variations of "correct" or is one of them wrong? Why did this editor say "jutting out" is redundant phrasing? Why does he keep removing the "of" when I say "off of," and why did the other editor leave it in? Which one is correct?

I'm a firm believer in this. I have to feel comfortable with the person I'm working with. I need to be able to say what needs said in a way that doesn't mince words, but is still kind and encouraging—genuine encouragement, which means I need to be wholeheartedly supportive of the story. I want the author to realize that too, so when I write a margin note like, I suggest changing this word, because a high school boy is not "debonair." If you continue to write about him when he's 60 years old, he can be debonair then and I won't take it out, I know the author will laugh with me instead of being insulted. Or when I write, Did you write this [double entendre] on purpose? Because I don't know whether to laugh or make you change it, and the author says, "No. No. NO. Oh my gosh, I can't believe you caught that," and we have a good chuckle.

Personality compatibility helps with trust, also. The author should know that whatever I have to offer is in the best interests of his book. If I change something, trust that I know the rules regarding that change. If I strongly suggest something, either obey me (with or without the gift of chocolates) or look it up and ask around to find out why I think it's so important. I can't force anyone to make the changes I suggest (that's the beauty of self-publishing), but if you don't want to accept any of them, then I can't in good conscience put my name in your book as the editor. And if I can't have my name listed, then it feels grossly unethical to take your money.

Part of an editor's personality should include the ability to admit when he or she doesn't have an answer. I have my own editing guru I contact when my knowledge and shelf of books yields no solid results, but I'll tell you about her in a future post. In the meantime . . .

You shouldn't feel awkward asking a potential editor some basic questions. For example, The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition is the standard style guide for the publishing industry in the US. Chicago recommends Merriam-Webster as THE dictionary for reference. An editor of fiction and non-fiction books should know that and use it. If a potential editor doesn't know what a style guide is, or doesn't know which one he uses, move along. Nothing to see there.

Ask how long an editor has been in business. Ask if he has repeat clients. Ask if she specializes in editing for UK or US clients. Ask what genres he feels most comfortable with, and if he's familiar with your specific genre. Ask what type of editing she's best at: substantive/content, line edits, or proofreading. Ask what kind of turnaround time to expect—some editors work part-time, some full-time, and some only on weekends as a second job. Ask if a contract is required (and if the editor doesn't require one and you do, he should agree to one). Ask if payment is required in advance, at the end prior to receiving the edited manuscript back, or in portions throughout the work. Ask if discounts are available. Pay attention to whether or not she's answered your emails promptly.

Hopefully, these steps will help you in the search for a good editor. Remember, if you feel unsure at any point in the search, you are not obligated to hire that person. There should be no hard feelings on either end. It's a business transaction, and if you choose not to do business with that person, it's no different than if you obtained several estimates from contractors before deciding who gets to remodel your bathroom. The more thorough the search, the more successful the venture.



  1. I like to think I'm a very good editor. I'm careful, and I'm my clients' biggest cheerleader. My goal is to help them make their writing the best it can be.


    1. I'll bet you're a great editor, Janie. I try my best to be thorough, and I love cheering on "my" authors. I want them to do well, and doing my job effectively will help that. The victory should be shared. I like all of them personally, too.

  2. I agree with getting evaluations from different editors, every little detail counts when it comes to finding your best match. Asking questions, both to the editors themselves and to the authors they've worked with—just like you mentioned in your previous editor's notes—is a wise advice.

    Personality is a huge factor as well. I can imagine it would be awful to work with someone whose work you admire and believe is great, but that you feel uncomfortable asking questions to. You have to feel a connection, much like finding your beta or critique partners, it's a relationship you're forming. You need the trust, comfort, and honesty on both ends.

    1. I really do feel for people who hire an editor, only to have to hire another to fix what the first one has done. From online conversations with other editors, this is not an uncommon thing, and that makes me sad. It's a huge waste of money for someone who may have scraped together spare change for months to save up for an editor.

      As far as personality, I would hate to have someone be afraid to question what I've done, and will often explain in margin notes why I've changed a particular thing, just in case. I would also hate to feel that I couldn't point out an obvious flaw because of being intimidated by an author. Thankfully, none of my authors intimidate me...and none of them are scared of me in the least, to my chagrin.

  3. hmmm ask questions... OK is it bigger than a breadbox.

    1. Professional Editor Answer: Yes.

      See how great I am? I was born for this.

  4. Another informative post, Lynda!! I like the idea of evaluation, that surely gives quick insight about what are you getting into. And personality matters too. I am definitely going to hire you as an editor, if I EVER write a book. :)


I love comments, and will always answer them, partly because I like having the last word and partly because I just like getting to know the people who read my blog. (Note: if the post is more than a couple weeks old, your comment will automatically go into the "needs approval" folder, but I will still publish it and reply!)