What makes an Editor good?

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What makes an Editor good?

Post by Deej on Mon Apr 01, 2013 7:27 pm

Jae, (the author of six books, two novellas and various short stories) blogged about this.

h1
What makes a good editor
March 31, 2013

A few months ago, people on one of the mailing lists I belong to started an interesting discussion: How do you know if the editor you or your publisher hired is a good one? Most first-time writers don’t have the skills or the experience to tell the difference between a good editor and a bad one.

During the last six years, I’ve published six novels (and I’m working on getting the first five republished and completing the seventh), two novellas, and fifteen short stories. I’ve worked with almost a dozen different editors, so I’ve learned to tell the good ones from the bad ones.

Here are a few things to look out for.

A good editor:

… is able to explain the reason behind her suggestions and changes.

… gives constructive criticism, feedback that is honest, but encouraging. An editor who’s just flattering your ego is useless, but so is someone whose feedback is so crushing that you want to give up writing.

… will make specific suggestions about how to solve a problem, so instead of just saying “your main character needs more development,” she might say, “How about showing a bit more backstory about her divorce here?”

… should be able to rewrite sentences—more as an example of what she wants the author to do, not as a ghostwriter who will rewrite the whole book.

… respects the author’s style, voice, and vision. She’ll make suggestions to improve the manuscript, but she won’t try to make it into her own.

… is a good teacher. Working with a great editor can teach you something for all of your future works and help you become a better writer.

… knows the market and the target audience better than you do. She knows what publishers and a particular demographic of readers is looking for.

… won’t introduce errors into your manuscript. She won’t make any changes without knowing or checking the rules, the dictionary, or the style guide. I once had an editor who arbitrarily changed quotation marks and added commas within compound predicates. Needless to say that I never worked with her again.

… should be familiar with the applicable style guide, e.g., The Chicago Manual of Style.

… is organized and disciplined. She’ll meet the deadlines and send your manuscript back on time.

… will point out the strong points of the story as well as the flaws. That way, you know what not to change, and a pat to the back is always a good motivation when it’s well-deserved.

… knows the difference between subjective taste and objective mistakes. Maybe the author’s voice differs from that of the editor, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s poor writing.

… has good interpersonal and communication skills. She won’t just pull out the red pen and start editing but will first make sure she knows what you need and expect from the editing process. Editing is an ongoing dialogue with a lot of back and forth.

… doesn’t just make changes without giving you a way to know what she has changed. She uses the “track changes” function so that authors can accept or reject changes. That allows the author to learn something for her next book and to retain full control over the manuscript. Personally, I wouldn’t want to work with an editor who is refusing to use “track changes.”

… won’t overedit and change things that don’t really need to be changed, just because it’s not the way the editor would have written it.

… doesn’t just point out errors but will make suggestions on how to realize the story’s full potential.

Any other traits or skills you want in an editor? Please leave a comment and let us know what you think.

https://jaefiction.wordpress.com/2013/03/31/what-makes-a-good-editor/

I don't know about you, but I've had what I would call a very well intentioned editor, one who worked closely with me and made suggestions, turned things around timely, tried to explain the reasoning behind changes she wanted to make. Then I also had the dictator, the editor who changed things without explaining why, the one who said "THIS IS HOW IT'S DONE," accept it. Not surprisingly, I'm a pretty stubborn person, so instead of accepting it, I went to my then publisher and questioned her directly. She let me plead my case on three different major points in my book, I was lucky enough that the publisher agreed with me on each and every one, even pointing out an issue of her own. One I also questioned the editor on, but again was ignored. So the lesson to be learned is, question everything, blindly accept nothing.

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Re: What makes an Editor good?

Post by PaulaO on Tue Apr 02, 2013 8:29 pm

The editor and I have emailed a few times and will be starting soon. NOT looking forward to it but I am trying to be optimistic. While in Minneapolis last year, I kissed up to my publisher to get the chance to have a say on who the editor would be. And while there, I got to talking to Natty Burns and found out she was an editor. I asked if she did SF and she said yes. We discussed it and Cathy agreed so...here I am. I liked her in person so that's good!

My first editor was good, but we banged heads a lot. Several times the publisher had to step in and make a ruling. We remained friends but I don't think I could have worked with her again. It wasn't difficult, just...interesting? The good thing though was we were both from the South, where BGCFA was based, so we didn't have to discuss the dialogue much.
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Re: What makes an Editor good?

Post by BassGuitarGirl on Tue Apr 02, 2013 10:25 pm

PaulaO wrote:Several times the publisher had to step in and make a ruling.
:?: Is this typical? Do publishers often have to step in to settle a disagreement between a writer and an editor? As a writer, I most certainly would fight for what I wanted. It's my work after all.
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Re: What makes an Editor good?

Post by Proofrdr on Wed Apr 10, 2013 5:24 pm

I agree with Jae's requirements except that one about knowing the market and the publishers better than the writer. The writer had better know who she's writing for before she starts!

I'm currently editing my 15th and 16th lesfic books and never had an author ask for a referee. Frankly, I'd be embarrassed if that were ever necessary!

The edit is basically a dialog between author and editor. The author has to trust the editor to know what's she's doing, and the editor has to make the book the best that the author can write. It should be fun...or at least enjoyable. You're taking something you worked on for months or even years and making it better! It should be the easy part of writing.
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Re: What makes an Editor good?

Post by Deej on Tue May 07, 2013 11:47 am

There's a really interesting conversation going on over at Lesfic Unbound, (I know of number of us are members there as well as here). Anyway the issue is Editors and do you fight with them or do you just blindly accept what they say.

For me, as a relative newbie, I admit I almost accepted what was changed. The reason I had the backbone, i.e., balls to fight was because I had had two editors review my book before it went to the publisher. I trust these women, I know their work, I also knew the publisher's editor. Knew her to be less than competent in her various official duties in the Lesfic world.

My advice to newbies is question everything. It's your right and maybe you do have a valid point.

I spoke with my publisher, she listened, even laughed with me and in the end made the changes I felt were so important. It cost my publisher the time of a phone call, if cost me twenty minutes of talking and hours of anxiety leading up to the "talk", but it was worth it in the end. My publisher was terrific and totally understood my issues, my concerns and made some changes I didn't even ask for because it was the right thing to do.

Just because someone calls them self an editor, doesn't mean it's true. A girl over at Lesfic Unbound said she beta reads and honestly believes that is almost as important as an editor, I agree if they're good. But I will always use my editors, because I need them. More importantly, I also need to trust them.

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Re: What makes an Editor good?

Post by Doreen Perrine on Fri Sep 20, 2013 8:27 pm

Trust is key! I also want to feel that my editor ultimately cares about my story, the characters, and the underlying gestalt of my words.

I've worked with directors of my plays and it's similar in the sense that the interaction is, or should be, collaborative. I am open to suggestions, but if something simply doesn't jive for me, I have to be able to express that. Of course, I approach that in a professional way and don't freak out. Neither am I shy about speaking for my words.
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Re: What makes an Editor good?

Post by ElaineB on Sat Sep 21, 2013 8:15 am

Well put, Doreen. The editor has to care about the story. And about the writer--wanting her to be the best writer she can be.

I read a lot of lesfic where underneath I sense a real potential in the writer. It's hard to define, but sometimes there's a spark of brilliance. Unfortunately, too often they choose to write the same thing over and over again, never really improving or stretching themselves as writers. One of the reasons my novel has taken so long is that I know it can be better and I'm trying to get good enough to write it the way I want it written. Which is not to say I think it will be brilliant. I'll be happy if it's merely good. The point is, it could also suck, and I really don't want that! It's frustrating. A supportive editor can make a world of difference.

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Re: What makes an Editor good?

Post by Doreen Perrine on Mon Sep 23, 2013 10:34 pm

My next novel is waiting in the wings too, Elaine.

It's so important to stretch ourselves to improve. For me as my own worst critic, the more I edit a story the deeper I delve into my writing process.
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