Editors come in all shapes and sizes. Some just look for grammar errors and minor inconsistencies. Others will make you obliterate entire subplots, characters, or make other massive changes.
So how do we know when we've found a good editor, at least, a good editor for our work? And what red flags should we look out for?
In this article, we'll explore what it means to be a qualified editor. Keep in mind, not all writers can edit. It takes an entirely different skill set. And not all editors can write either.
What SHOULD an Editor Do?
An editor takes a story, as presented to them, and finds ways to polish it. They SHOULD avoid tainting the authors' voice, SHOULD stick with the author's vision best they can, and SHOULDN'T ask for changes unless necessary.
An extremely good editor, when diagnosing flaws, will provide solutions. A so-so editor will say, "This scene is awkward. Fix it." A better editor will say, "This scene is awkward. Put in some more action beats and help us to hear the thoughts of the characters."
With this in mind, let's take a look at a few red flags in editors. Remember, most editors do provide a sample edit, so watch for these warning signs before you commit to the full edit.
Keep in mind, every editor has a different style. Even if you don't like their style, it doesn't mean they've edited your work improperly. But you may want to figure out which styles you enjoy the most, so you don't cause yourself and your editor grief.
Red Flag One: They Make a Big Deal about Minor Things
Do their edits seem random? Does it just seem like they're digging in their heels about split infinitives but have offered no thoughts as to whether you executed your dialogue, pacing, or character arc well?
Editors should point out flaws in grammar and punctuation, especially copy editors and proofreaders. But their main focus is to make your story better. If their edits really don't improve the story, but seem more like personal preferences (for instance, "I don't like this verb, personally. Use this synonym.") try to find another editor.
Red Flag Two: They Want to Write Vicariously through Your Story
Some writers disguise themselves as editors. They want you to change a character to be a certain way because THEY would like a story with a character who looks like that.
If they don't seem to give good reasons for massive changes such as, "You have a really happy-go-lucky character, and I think your audience would prefer someone more brooding based on recently published titles," other than the fact they simply like brooding characters, search elsewhere for edits.
Red Flag Three: They Ask for Major Edits without Having Read the Whole Story
Many editors can tell, off the bat, if you need to increase the pacing or start the story in a different spot. But if they've only read three chapters and tell you to make changes to the entire story based on that sample alone, they have not done the editing process right.
Perhaps they notice you have a stagnant character in chapter two, but by chapter seven, that character has become more dynamic. If they'd done proper edits, they would've realized at chapter seven that you made the character more dynamic, and would ask you to clean them up in the first few chapters.
Red Flag Four: They Don't Get Your Vision
Editors should see what you've attempted to accomplish and help you to translate that vision for the reader. If it's clear in their edit that they didn't understand what you were going for, seek a different editor.
Writers may not find a perfect editor. Some editors hate exclamation points. Others may like more white space, etc. They all have different quirks. But you should not EVER feel defeated or want to quit writing after receiving an edit. Even the harshest of editors ought to provide encouragement from time to time. And they should always try to preserve your vision, your story's integrity, and your authorial voice. If they don't, run.