Monday, December 10, 2012

Knowing When You Have a Good Editor (and What Bad Editors Do)

I get asked from time to time how I know an editor is good. This question came up again in one of my Yahoo groups, and I figured I would share my answer here:

This is a toughie to answer because knowing if you have a good editor requires a certain level of "meta" awareness, and the route there is different for (probably) everyone. It's not as simple as following a checklist and saying: "My editor and I did A, B, C and D. Therefore, I have a good editor."

However, you do have to temporarily set aside your ego and insecurities, especially if your book is your first. That's when your ego is probably at its biggest. Your book is da bomb, and now here is this editor basically sh*tting all over it. Try not to see him/her as the enemy but instead as someone working with you. I know that editing helped my first book improve greatly, and the beating my ego took was worth the tradeoff.

Partners/friends/family members -- don't trust them. Not even if they're the #1 editing team in the nation. They want to maintain a good relationship with you. There are exceptions, of course, such as if your partner's never hesitated about being blunt with you because you'd otherwise be embarrassed (these are good partners to have!). Otherwise, they may say your work is da bomb and further make your editor look like an enemy idiot. A few years' time will hopefully allow you the distance and perspective to put the editing experience vs. your family's "woo woo woo!" cheers in their proper places.

Basically, for beginner writers (especially if they've never read writing books, taken writing classes, etc.), they may never know for sure if they had a good editor. A few years' time should do the trick, though. More and more (and then more) training on writing and self editing should help push a writer to the "meta" self awareness necessary to know if an editor is any good. There are many, many routes to attaining this.

I see a lot of fiction with crazy errors, and I'm not even talking about the story editing aspect, per se. I'm talking about proofreading errors (a line editor usually does proofreading). And these authors don't realize how error-riddled their books are. So, this also says to me you need a strong grasp of grammar if you want to know if you've had/have a good editor.

Feel free to ask your prospective editors (either freelance or at a publisher) about their experience and editing philosophy. Keep in mind that an author does not necessarily make a good editor. If your editor replies with something like: "I've been an author ten years and have edited books the past five years," that isn't enough of a "qualifications" statement. You may want to specifically ask about editing training this person has had, etc. "Quality" editors should never be put off when you ask about their qualifications. They know they're good, and they understand the necessity of asking. I often find it's people who are insecure or who have something to hide who are put off by questions of qualifications. (You see it on TV shows all the time; surgeons performing their first solo surgery often squirm when patients ask how many they've done, and sometimes the surgeons try to find a way around the question. Squirming and evading--great way to inspire confidence, right? ;-) )

How to know you have a bad editor:

- Editor won't do her work in track changes
- Editor says: "Great book! Didn't really make changes."
- Editor says: "I made all the changes myself," therefore denying you many learning opportunities.
- Editor introduces errors into the manuscript (for example, changes "five-year-old boy" to "five-year old boy" and changes "The dog licked its paw" to "The dog licked it's paw.")

** An editor who never says a good thing about your book may not necessarily be a bad editor. It depends. But if this bothers you, you may want to find a better editing match personality-wise.

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