We've talked about what to watch out for in the editorial biz. We've talked about "red flags" you should notice, and those that you ignore at your own peril. And we've talked about a couple of key attributes a good editor has: namely, competence and humility--which can be considered as complementary halves of the same coin.
Now, let's talk about some other aspects of good editing and good editorial experiences. What else should you expect from a good editor?
1. A good editor will respect both you and your voice.
You might think this is a given, but it's not. We've talked earlier about editors who don't respect what you're doing, don't like your genre or look down on it, or belittle or ridicule authors out of some misguided attempt to "make them tough." None of these things is the mark of a good editor. When we talk about editorial "humility" as a virtue, we're not just talking about the "head" knowledge an editor has; we're also talking about their "heart." If you ever get the feeling an editor's "heart" is not in the right place, this is not a good editor for your work. And that includes editors who will mess with your "voice."
The converse to that is, however, that you be honest about the difference between "unique voice" and sloppiness. :-) I wish I had a dollar for every naive young author who, when told to correct things like failure to capitalize, spell correctly, or punctuate and/or use the correct word somewhere, countered with, "But that's part of my voice." No, no, and no again. Your "voice" has nothing to do with bad storytelling techniques, awkward sentence structure, or "breaking the rules just to break them." If you know anything at all about the language, you know that any deviation you do from standard written English will result in a "ding" it its clarity. You don't want "dings." These things get in the way, just like spots get in the way of a clear view through a window. Make your writing as spot-free as possible; if you do that, a good editor will discern your "voice" and respect it, even if he/she forces you to do some heavy-duty literary "earth moving" in other ways.
2. A good editor will have a degree of flexibility and not be afraid to use it.
It might sound contradictory to stress format, correctness, and transparency as much as I do...and then sound like I'm saying the opposite in the next point. I'm not. I'm merely saying that a good editor will not "pontificate." It won't be "my way or the highway" unless the change the editor insists upon truly IS a deal-breaker for his/her house or for the sake of the readability of the manuscript. There are cases like that, and writers need to respect them.
But in the great majority of cases, such as if you're using a freelance editor to improve the book prior to sending it to a publisher or agent, a good editor will be willing to meet you halfway. If a requested change sticks in your craw, don't be afraid to ask about a compromise...or to ignore it entirely. Odds are pretty good that either the editor won't notice it--it happens!--or, if he/she does and asks about it, and you explain your reasons, the editor will go with your judgment. If he/she does not, be sure you know why not. It could mean the difference between a faux-pas in your book that you don't want out there...and prose that sings. Most good editors err on the side of the singing!
3. A good editor will be a good communicator.
You'd think it would be a "given" that a person who works with words all the time would know how to stay in touch with authors and other clients...but sometimes, it's not. We've all heard the horror stories of so-called editing professionals who take on a task and then are never heard from for weeks, or months. If at any time you get the feeling that this person may be one of those reclusive silent types, address that issue before you hand over your "baby." Otherwise, it can feel like you've thrown your work down a black hole, and no author deserves that treatment. You're paying this editor for a professional job; part of that professionalism is regular progress reports and quick answers to any questions you have.
What's "quick" and "regular"? Rule of thumb: if you send an e-mail to an editor, he or she should be back to you with some kind of response within the week. I won't say 24 hours, because that's blazing fast, and some of us don't check e-mails more than once a day; anything past five or more days, however, you have a right to question. Treat this working relationship as if you're in the same physical office building together. You wouldn't accept "black holes" there, and you shouldn't accept them in this relationship, even if it's conducted from half a world apart.
Finally...let's get to the nitty-gritty, one of the biggest stumbling blocks on either side of the editorial equation.
4. A good editor will not come cheap.
This is worth repeating (although I won't). But it is worth saying, and saying over and over again--if you want quality, you're going to have to pay for it. That's just common sense, but it's absolutely stunning how much common sense flies out the window when it comes to having one's work edited.
Why is that? One answer: too much misinformation is out there about the writing and publishing business. Yes, it's good to educate oneself. But if writers read enough horror stories about "greedy editors" who want "too much money" to "do nothing," they all too often get convinced that if you ask for money at all, you're suspect...and if you ask for a substantial amount of money, you're probably crooked in some way.
Don't fall for it. You get what you pay for...in this area, as in all other aspects of "real life."
This is not to say that you shouldn't take some of this guidance; much of it is sound. And, of course, you can shop around--and you should. Rates will range from as low as $25 or $50 for a complete book edit all the way up to my rates ($5 per 250-word page) and even higher, especially if you're hiring a "book doctor" who also claims to have connections to other media. Much of what you decide to do with a book "doctor" or editor will depend on your budget. That being said, however, resist the urge to go with the low-ball bid strictly on price alone. I've seen $50 edits; trust me, you don't want one for your book. :-) 'nuff said.
When you do compare prices, make sure you're comparing apples to apples. Some people's idea of a "book edit" is little more than proofreading: they check obvious typos, they check spelling, and they check to see if your sentences appear to make sense. Unfortunately, some of these people use software to do those checks--which is never a good idea. Word's grammar check alone is so full of errors that, using it as a guide, you will start with something written right and end up with it wrong. (Clearly, Word did not use a good editor for their software "rules"!) Even if these folks do a personal edit, however, they're not necessarily going to examine your storytelling skills, catch plot holes, find things like name changes for a character, etc. And most people I know want all those kinds of things caught in an "edit" as well as the "basics." So when you're comparing, take notes on who offers what--and know what you're going to pay for before you commit. If you want a comprehensive, exhaustive edit such as the kind I (and many other seasoned pros) give, expect to pay at the upper end of the pricing scale rather than the lower end.
One caveat: be aware of the differences in prices--and time frames--per word versus per "page." Pages can be literally any length nowadays, depending on how the writer sets up the manuscript. Obviously, a "page" with 350 words will take longer to edit than one with 250 words, so estimates you receive should reflect that. When I give quotes nowadays, especially for clients who want a "flat-fee" estimate, I tend to do them on per-word rates rather than "per page." It's far more accurate and fair to both sides.
The other rate option is a per-hour rate; that can sound pricey at first, but if you've got a very clean manuscript, it can actually be cheaper to hire a high-per-hour rate editor than one who gives you a flat-fee quote. The higher per-hour editor often is better qualified and will work faster...which means that you pay a modest fee, get a quick turnaround, and have great results that fit your budget.
Such a deal, huh?
Whatever deal you strike, with whatever editor you choose...make sure you know what you're getting, when you're supposed to get it, and what you're paying for it up front. That way, you'll know if you're not getting what you paid for, and you can take steps accordingly. But if you exercise reasonable caution, you shouldn't end up on those "writer alert" boards complaining--or have to pay twice for an edit that should be done right the first time.
This installment concludes our quick-and-dirty course in Editor Wisdom 101. I hope the info here has been useful, valuable, and helpful. Any feedback you want to put in here will be appreciated!
Thanks for listening...