A Checklist for Editors

Here’s a checklist of five items I’m looking to get from an editor. Sometimes it makes sense to let a potential editor you’re interested in hiring know what you’re looking for.

  1. Be Brutal.
    When I submit something to an editor, particularly if I am paying that editor, I expect them to be honest and as nit-picky as possible. I’m looking for areas that can be improved. I don’t want their “fixes” drawn out – I want to know what’s wrong and generally how to go about fixing the problem, not how they would rewrite a sentence or paragraph. Telling me that a scene is flat and could use some tension added helps me. Having them do the rewrite is not…it’s collaboration.
  2. Be Specific.
    Telling me a scene is “nice” tells me nothing. I can ask one of my kids to read my story to hear that it’s “nice”. Telling me what works and suggesting I employ that methodology to a later scene is helpful. Explaining why the protagonist is not working (for that editor) can help me to find ways to endear the hero to a larger audience.
  3. Be Focused.
    With novels, I have four editors. The first one is a software analysis tool that spots things like homonyms, inadvertent repetition, colloquialisms, and sentence complexity. It’s useful to fix the glaring silly errors that crop up when writing, and those errors that are invisible because your brain auto-corrects what you meant to write. The second editor is my wife, who reads through and reports on how she enjoyed or didn’t enjoy the story. The third editor is a line editor who spots grammar and other mechanical issues with my text. The fourth editor is a continuity editor who reads for plot holes and overall story continuity. I expect each editor to be focused on their area of expertise, particularly since the last two are paid gigs.
  4. Be Timely.
    When I contract out for an editor, I expect them to be working on my project and to be wary of the time constraints. If a book is due to a publisher on a certain date, I need to have the edits done and submitted. Even though they will also employ an editor, I know the work they receive will be ready for print. Although I usually work with small presses, I can see both small and large publishers releasing work that is in dire need of an edit. If the publisher I submitted my novel to doesn’t even bother to edit, I know my work will look reasonably professional.
  5. Be Thoughtful.
    After hammering my work with Mjolnir (Thor’s hammer), break the ruthless tension by pointing out what I did well so I know I should keep doing it. Add in some humor and poke fun at some of my mistakes, since that will also alleviate the shame from using the wrong “your/you’re”. Always look at helping me build a better story, not for the editor to look good or to be mean and nasty because they’re mean and nasty people.
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