A terrible editor will try to bully you into choosing them, won’t listen to you when you ask for a specific edit, and will chase you for more work if you happen not to lose your cool and tell them exactly where they can disappear to.
A good editor will do the job they’re asked to do, do it on time, and that’s it.
The One will make you fall in love with them.
I have fallen in love twice, the first editor happened to retire from it to focus on her own writing. The second, after a rocky start, I will be returning to next year if she isn’t too busy. There have been two good editors in my life and I am thankful to them. And then I had the worst time with two terrible editors who will never see my stories or my money ever again!
Why be professionally edited? After years of living with the characters and the world, it’s hard to step back and see what needs to be fixed. They can help find the plot holes, tidy up awkward sentences, and add fresh ideas in some places.
Where do you find editors? Ask other authors. The most reliable source happens to be through other authors who have weeded out the terrible ones.
Do not respond to the stalkers on social media (if they find you, they don’t have a good reputation because their work is substandard and so they have to chase work). Do some stalking and see what others say about them and see what they themselves say about their own work (one of my terrible editors complained that she couldn’t get repeat work that had been “promised” to her and wasn’t using very nice words to describe the people, that should’ve been my hint).
Or go to the editor society for your state and have a scroll through some profiles (very much like a dating website). i.e. www.editorsnsw.com
What do you ask for? Ask for a quote. Specify what it is you’re looking for and how long your book is in terms of word count and the deadline for the edits. And do email so you have a record of every conversation. And it’s more professional than messaging through social media.
A structural edit looks at how the text flows, if it’s in its correct order, if there is anything missing or needing more explanation.
A content edit is fact checking, making sure it isn’t defamatory material, and has no legal issues that will come back to bite you in the arse later.
Copy editing is that all important spell check and grammar Nazi, as well as fixing those awkward sentences so it all flows.
Don’t let someone bully you. If you’re not comfortable with talking to them through email, don’t go with them, especially if they completely disregard your requests and tell you what they’re going to do instead. Remember, you have the power because you’re the client with money. If they want your work, they will bend for you.
That said, always pay on time and the agreed amount when the work is done. Don’t be a dick. Pay them the same way you want to be paid; quickly. It is normal for editors to ask for half up front (this is their insurance), but don’t ever pay all of it before they start. That’s stupid.
I normally ask for three rounds of edits; the first two focus on structural and copy editing, and the final is a quick proof read to make sure everything flows. This normally takes about five weeks to do (week one they edit, week two I go through and accept or reject the suggestions and make changes, week three they edit again, week four I repeat my actions, week five they proof), but I book in with an editor six months in advance. The most I have ever paid has been $750 for a 50,000-word manuscript (but that was to my first editor who was terrible). My good editors have been less than that.
Finding The One is possible. If you lose them, don’t despair, you’ll find another even if you have to ask them to recommend someone. And don’t feel guilty for having a high number; sometimes you have to work with a lot of toads to find a prince charming who can wield their red pen with skill.
Now if I could find a boyfriend the same way, things would be so much easier.