Editors are not a writer’s enemy.
It’s dismaying to see post after post by writers either eschewing professional editing or who accuse editors as greedy thieves. Yes, there are some bad actors out there. Every profession has its proverberial bad apples.
The editor is the writer’s best friend. No one cares as much as about your book’s success as you do, but the editor comes a close second. Your success is his or her success: an editor wants your book to hit those bestseller lists, to gather accolades, to be optioned for movie rights. Your editor wants all that and more for you, which is why the editor’s main focus is serving the best intersts of the book.
Serving the book’s best interest means that the editor is not being paid to flatter you. The editor’s job boils down to two tasks: pointing out the flaws and helping you fix the flaws. Telling you what you did well is icing on the cake.
Look, I get it. I’m an author, too. We all love praise. We want that dopamine hit when someone says he likes our books or when a reader recommends the book to someone else. We crave those positive reviews that persuade prospective readers to buy our books.
We need to remember that the editor’s sometimes stinging comments are not directed at the writer. The editor focuses on the work. The editor may lack tact and may be stingy with compliments, but his or her insight points out the issues we miss and helps us correct the flaws. The general public reading and reviewing our books won’t be so kind.
So, how do you distinquish between a good editor and a bad one?
Some freelance platforms cater to the substandard, both in terms of clients and vendors. Cheapskate clients who devalue the services they want to hire often impose unreasonable expectations for paltry pay. Good editors won’t work for those clients, because they know their own value and don’t allow other clients to devalue them. Before you bemoan the expense of a professional editor, educate yourself with regard to industry standard rates. The Editorial Freelancers Association publishes a good guideline showing you what you can expect to pay for service. It’s all right to be frugal. The best way to optimize the value of professional editing is to be rigorous and ruthless in self-editing your work before you hand it to an editor.
Some writers fear an editor will steal their work. Let’s face it, once your book is published, it will be stolen. You can’t stop it. Console yourself with the knowledge that the bad characters who steal your hard work wouldn’t pay for the privilege of reading it anyway. You should also be aware that fewer than 10% of authors earn more than $1,000 in royalties annually. It’s a small percentage who actually earn enough to live on the income their books generate. No editor worth his or her salt is going to steal your manuscript in the hope that it will make him or her a lot of money in royalties. Also, many editors—like yours truly—are also authors. They have more than enough of their own ideas to develop and don’t need to steal your stories.
Many writers fear that an editor will ruin their literary masterpieces. A good editor won’t overwrite your voice; a good editor refines your voice and keeps your style. This effort may involve tightening overwritten (i.e., flabby) content, converting passive voice to active voice, and limiting adverbs and adjectives. The upshot here is that an editor makes your writing better.
Finding a competent editor entails a bit of research. Referrals and word of mouth is a good way to find a good editor. Higher caliber sites like Reedsy, the EFA, Author’s Guild, ACES, and LinkedIn increase your chances of finding a good editor. Be prepared to spend money, because professional service commands commensurate compensation.
Once you’ve narrowed your selection of potential editors, ask for a free sample edit. With an excerpt of your manuscrtipt not exceeding 1,000 words, and editor can show you how he or she will treat your manuscript. If the editor’s work meets or exceeds your expectations, then it’s a good sign that’s the editor you want. By the way, a sample edit might be offered for free or might be offered at a discounted rate.
Check the editor’s references and/or client testimonials. If the editor has a LinkedIn profile, check that out. Same goes for a website, Facebook page, etc. Editors with a viable social media presence are real people who do real work.
Good editing is invisible. When you’re reading a book and you don’t notice glitches and other problems in the content, you know it’s been professionally edited. Poor editing or lack of editing is always noticeable, and that’s not the kind of notice an author wants.
An editor is an author’s best friend. Keep your editor close.