April 21, 2015

Picking Editors: What Do You Need from Your Editor?

Color variations of a single shade with text: In Search of Our Perfect Editor...

I wasn’t planning on doing another post about picking editors, but a couple of great comments and questions brought up a few more issues I want to touch on. *smile*

Last week, we talked about the different kinds of editing and editors. Whether or not we pay a professional editor for all the different steps of editing, it’s good to understand the stages so we can ensure that we’re checking for potential issues in the right order.

We also talked about how to evaluate editors. I emphasized that finding the right editor for us is a very subjective process, so we can’t simply copy the choices of another author.

Today I want to dig deeper into some of the variations we might encounter when evaluating editors. By understanding these variations, we might better be able to find our perfect match. *smile*

We Each Need Different Strengths from Our Editors

An editor’s strengths are composed of many skills. And the skills an editor possesses are like the facets of a gem.

Any cut diamond will have facets defining the whole, but certain percentages will balance out in different ways for different purposes. The facet design of a round brilliant-cut diamond works for many jewelry settings, while the facets of a heart-shaped diamond are necessary for other settings.

Similarly, we might need an editor stronger in certain areas than another author. Our knowledge, genre, story, voice, and strengths and weaknesses create a “setting” that will work best with bigger “facets”—strengths—of certain editorial skills.

The Many Skills of an Editor

As we mentioned last week, editors have different skills as far as the type of editing they’re good at. Some focus on the big picture, some look at the nitty-gritty details, and some split the difference by focusing on the details to affect the big picture.

However, beyond that obvious difference, all editors also need other skills, such as:

A Keen Eye for Issues:

Every editor of any type must first be able to find the issues in our work. Duh.

Going back to our diamond analogy, I’d consider this the main facet of our editor’s skills. If they can’t find issues, they’re not doing us a whole lot of good.

The importance of this facet is why we can learn a lot by comparing sample edits from different editors. If we could see all the issues in our work, we wouldn’t need editors. By comparing sample edits, we can reach a better understanding of where those issues are and which editor is good at finding most of them in our work.

An Understanding of Issues and Their Causes:

Every editor should be able to identify (at least to some extent) the cause of an issue.

  • Developmental editors need to understand story structure, character and theme development, pacing, etc.
  • Line editors need to have a good handle on how to make our words flow and create the most impact, etc.
  • Copy editors need to know grammar rules, word usage, etc.

Most authors would think this facet fairly important, but others might not. For example, some authors might not need their line editor to explain why a sentence is clunky. All they need is their editor to point out where the wording is awkward, and the author would take it from there.

The author’s strength would make this facet of an editor’s skills less important. When we’re evaluating editors and we come across one who doesn’t seem to dig deep enough, it might be because there’s a mismatch between their focus and what we need as far as understanding the cause of an issue.

A Knowledge of Potential Solutions:

Related to the above fact, some authors need their editors to be able to give suggestions of how to fix a problem, while some don’t. For example, some developmental editors might not have ideas for how to make a character more likable. They’d only be able to point out that the character was unlikable and maybe some of the phrases or sections that caused the impression.

Other developmental editors would be able to point out most of the phrases causing that impression (so the author could tweak or delete them), as well as be able to give other ideas for how to increase the character’s likability. Either editor could be a good match for certain authors.

Our needs in this regard can vary with each issue. Depending on our strengths and weaknesses, we might need more help fixing some issues than others. With some types of issues, I have the *head slap* moment when something is pointed out, and I fix it without a problem. For other types of issues, I want to see examples because I can’t figure out how to fix it without the extra help. *smile*

When we’re evaluating editors, we can look at the types of comments they leave to see how strong this facet is among their skills. Do their comments include suggested fixes? At least for the areas we have weaknesses?

There’s no right or wrong. There’s only a question of whether they’re a good match for our needs.

An Ability to Communicate:

Continuing with the variations of skills, some editors might be great at finding issues, knowing the cause of the issue, and having suggestions for how to fix the issue. However, are they good at communicating all that to the author?

Some editors’ comments will be all business, and some will include kudos or jokes. Some will be blunt, and some will couch their suggestions in disclaimers. Some will be a stickler for rules, and some will judge based on their own feel of our story, voice, or genre.

Again, there’s no right or wrong. Some of us want an editor who’s more gentle, and others of us don’t care as long as the majority of the issues are found.

When we’re evaluating editors, we can look at their comments to see if their communication style works for us. An editor might be great with all the other facets, but if their fixes don’t mesh with our voice and story goals or if they’re too harsh for our taste, they’re not going to be a good match.

Can We Really Find a Perfect Match?

Nothing is ever going to be perfect-perfect, including our editors. They won’t find 100% of issues. They won’t be able to explain every gut instinct. They won’t give suggested solutions for every issue. And they won’t be able to communicate so perfectly that they feel like our mental twin all the time.

Just like any other relationship or partnership, the “perfect” match requires compromise. And this again is why the perfect editor for someone else might not be the perfect editor for us.

My “must haves” are different from your “must haves.” Or put another way, my neuroses and pet peeves are different from your neuroses and pet peeves. *snicker*

So we look for an editor that’s strongest in the areas we need. One who’s good at meeting our needs most of the time. One who makes mistakes in areas that we can ignore or not worry about.

The only question is whether they’re “perfect enough” for us to trust. If we trust them with our work, to meet our needs, to make our writing the best it can be, etc., that is perfect.

We’ll Trust Our Editor When…

As we discussed last time as part of my final thoughts (or not-so-final thoughts *grin*), the most important consideration is whether we trust our editor. We want to trust that our editor will meet our needs, whether that’s finding our story’s issues or giving suggestions on how to fix our story’s issues.

And our needs are going to be different from any other author’s needs. This is why it’s so hard to find the right editor for us.

We can ask for recommendations. We can look at the acknowledgements section of books (but that won’t tell us whether or not the author followed the editor’s advice, especially for self-published authors). Or we can talk to editors with a good reputation.

But none of that will tell us whether the editor would be a good match for us and our needs. As I mentioned in the comments of the last post, knowing the name of someone’s editor provides a name for Step One: Gather Names, and that’s it.

It’s far more important to find an editor who meets our needs than one who meets the needs of one of our friends or a big-name author. It’s only by feeling that our needs are met that we’ll truly be able to feel that they’re our partner and trust them with our work.

If we trust our editor, our default response to every suggestion will be “Yes, unless I can come up with a reason to disagree.” If we don’t trust our editor, our default response will be “No, unless you give me a reason to listen.”

That’s a big difference. And understanding our needs for how to build that trust is just another reason why finding the right editor for us is so important and yet so subjective. *smile*

Can you think of other facets of general skills an editor might have? Do you know what facets are most important for you? Do you know which ones are less important for you? If you’ve found an editor who’s perfect for you, how well do they match your needs? Do you agree about the importance of trust?

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Stacy Jerger

I love these posts about finding a good editor. The nuances of the author-editor relationship are so varied! I think it depends too how well the editor and author can grow together.

When I work with new authors, part of the collaboration process is getting to know them better. Obviously, good communication is gold throughout our time together, even if we don’t always agree. Working on the second book might be smoother than the first because we know each other better by then. When I work with repeat clients, it’s fun and breezy, and we’re already comfortable.

There’s something to be said for flexible editors too. It can be a stumble at first, and then a smooth sail. If an author prefers less editing and more querying, or less gentle hedging and more blunt honesty, I’m happy to compromise and tweak my approach. But that’s just me. I really love when an author and I can grow together. 🙂

Thanks, Jami!!


[…] I talked about how to find the right editor for us: the right kind with the right strengths and the right style. At the end of that series, I pointed out how one of the most important considerations is that we […]


[…] Over the last year and a half, I’ve written several articles about finding editors. We’ve talked about knowing what kind of editor we need, how we can identify a good editor, how we can evaluate sample edits, and how we each need different things from editors. […]


[…] how to determine the best editor for us (as “best” is a subjective label determined by our strengths and weaknesses and what we each need from our editor) […]

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