It can be intimidating to work with an editor for the first time. Whether you’re polishing up your completed memoir, strengthening your skills as a blogger, or prepping an essay before you make your first submission to a literary journal, a good editor can be your best friend during any stage of your writing career. (Think it’s a stretch to say an editor could be your best friend? A best friend is one of the most honest, straightforward, and encouraging relationships in your life, and your editor should be that way, too.)
Before I was editing full-time, I was also writing for various outlets. During that season, I worked with some amazing editors and some terrible editors—which helped me become a better editor myself. Here are four things to look for when hiring an editor to work alongside you as you see your project through.
1. A little humility.
Your editor should be extremely intelligent and incredibly humble about it. They should have knowledge of your genre, subject, and intended audience—and, although even the best editors make mistakes, they should sure as heck know how to construct a proper sentence and know when commas are (and aren’t) necessary. A good editor should work to preserve your unique voice without imposing theirs on your work.
And, unless you are working with a developmental editor or managing editor of a publication, they shouldn’t feel like the boss of your work. You’re the boss of your work.
2. A talented writer.
Many times, editors were writers prior to their editing role. The best of us love and know how to make a writer’s intentions shine through their project. If you are working with a content editor or experienced copyeditor whose role is to take away from and add to a piece to develop it further, ask to see writing and editing samples. Use those samples to determine if this person’s voice and style fit with your own work. But a different style isn’t necessarily a deal breaker. Often, editors can jump back and forth successfully between different voices for their projects. If you need more proof of their abilities, ask them if they would complete a one- or two-page sample edit before hiring them.
Good editors can also give you several different revision options for sentences, paragraphs, or sections of your work. That’s where those writing skills come in handy!
3. Honesty with a dose of encouragement.
Editors shouldn’t return your project with only overwhelming red ink negative edits up and down the margins. An excellent editor will honestly evaluate your work, while also finding pieces of your project to commend you on, leaving comments highlighting their favourite lines of your work, or giving feedback about how much they enjoyed reading it.
If your editor is regularly sending edits that make you feel more like you are being graded than taught or developed, try discussing it with them. Some of my favourite projects as an editor have been when I’ve worked with hardworking, knowledgeable people who aren’t professional writers; I was able to encourage them, teach additional writing skills, and help develop their work into what they hoped it would be. Team up with an editor who motivates you and works alongside you to keep cultivating the vision for your work.
4. An editor that’s born and trained.
When we picture an editor, we often see a bespectacled, bookish individual who adheres to strict schedules and details, champions perfectionism and clarity, and can be just a little intense when advocating for a project. There is a reason for the stereotype: The more professional editors I meet, the more I realize it involves a certain personality profile and a person who most likely spent their childhood reading. (I know an editor who was grounded from the library as a kid.) Editors are born with an intense love of language, communication, and story.
But the best editors are also trained. Whether it’s on-the-job training and experience that helped them manage projects and writer relationships like a pro, a formal education or certification program that sharpened the skills they already were using in the workplace, or being an active member of editing associations that provide support and training, the best editors are always working on their craft and are well-informed on industry trends.
No matter where you are at in your writing career, editors can be an excellent resource, polishing your work and helping you shine. Find a professional editor that encourages and motivates you, while commending your work and helping you grow in your craft.
Author: Amanda B. Johnson is a full-time copyeditor for Ramsey Solutions and a freelance editor and writer who lives in Nashville, Tennessee. She writes about life, marriage, faith, and nature at amandabjohnson.wordpress.com, but you can find the professional version of Amanda at betterwordsco.com. Connect with her on Instagram at @acbjohnson or on Twitter at @betterwordsco.