Ask a Writer Blog Series: Editors

I receive a ton of great questions from aspiring authors on Twitter. In fact, they’re such good questions that trying to answer them within 140 characters can prove challenging. So, I decided to start a new blog series where I can respond to these questions more in-depth.

Of course, there are many different types of writers, and there are no one-size-fits-all answers. With that in mind, I’ve invited a group of my peers to join me and share their valuable insights and experiences as well. Let’s get started.

Got a question for the panel? Tweet it to me!

This week: What are the characteristics of a good editor?

David K. Hulegaard, author of the Noble series, Strangers

I’ve been blessed to work with both good and bad editors. I say “blessed” because it’s important to know the difference between a highly-skilled editor and an overpaid grammar-Nazi.

A good editor is someone that you can always trust to have your best interest in mind (Hi, Jessica!). Any editor can correct your grammatical errors and typos, but only a skilled editor can help you identify plot holes, inconsistencies in character behavior, and also challenge you to think about your work from a reader’s perspective.

The best editors recognize your areas of improvement and coach you through it. Whether a gentle touch or tough love approach works best for you is entirely a matter of preference. I prefer working with people that aren’t assholes, but your threshold may vary.

A bad editor is someone that tears apart your work for the sole purpose of placating their ego (usually compensating for their own shortcomings as a writer). They won’t try to help you understand your mistakes or identify your areas of improvement. They pretty much just shit on you and make snarky comments at your expense. A bad editor can’t offer you anything more than a general editing pass because that’s all they’re capable of.

What’s important to remember is that for a good editor to do their job effectively, you must be willing to listen, and you must be willing to sacrifice your word babies if necessary. Choose your hills to die on carefully, because a good editor is usually right. The key is trust.

Bernard Schaffer, author of the Superbia, Guns of Seneca 6, and Grendel Unit series

Absolute cruelty in the face of poor performance. Delight in victory. Thorough steadfastness for the duration of the project. A guiding eye. An overall view. Knowing when to make a stand. Knowing when to let the author make theirs.

Tony Healey, author of the Far From Home and Fallen Crown series

They catch all the stuff you miss. All the little grammar things you probably don’t even think about when you’re composing your latest masterpiece. They tighten your writing, rein it in, ensure it’s clear and easy to read. A good editor doesn’t just stick to a style sheet, but bends according to each author’s voice. To the needs of the project, taken on its own terms.

A good editor is there to give you advice, to offer an encouraging word, to bite your head off when you keep making the same mistake over and over and over again. They give your their best because it’s their name going on the book, too. They’re helping you shape it into something that will hold a reader’s attention. They have your best interests at heart even if it seems like they’re getting on your case from time to time.

A good editor – no, a really good editor – like the lady I use, Laurie Laliberte, is all of the above and more. And that’s when she’s telling me: “Each time you abuse a semi-colon a kitten dies.”

Because it’s all about the work. None of it’s personal.

“Man up, put on your big boy pants and fucking own your writing or I’m increasing your rates!” she said to me one day.

Well, the rates have stayed the same. And I’ve sold thousands of books. So I guess that’s a really good editor for you.

William Vitka, author of the Hroza Connection and The Bartender series

A good editor gives a damn about the story as well as the writing. Yes, they sure as hell will catch the mistakes you missed — and bludgeon any adverbs or semicolons to death with a log — but they should also help guide you. They should make sure your tale doesn’t run off the rails. Or, at least, do their best to. Much of that is up to the writer. A shitty story is still a shitty story, even if it has perfect grammar.

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