Friday Speak Out!: Three Steps to Choosing an Editor (and why we all need one)

Friday, April 28, 2017
by K. Alan Leitch

There's only so long, isn't there? There's only so long writers can tell ourselves that it's just an unlucky streak. When that moment comes... when 'so long' becomes 'too long'... it's time to just do it. Just pack up the draft that came screaming out of you like offspring and hire yourself an editor.

That's what I did, and it made a difference. I started writing again.

It's a difficult decision to make, I'll grant. Sending work out to be critiqued can be humbling. Once it's made, though, the hardest part is over… but choosing from the many, many editors available edges into the race as a very close second-hardest. How do you trust someone who isn't much more than a website? With some advice from Cathy Hall, right here at WOW, here are the four steps I took to face the challenge.

Step One: Decide who will be encouraging

Yes, I actually placed this as my first priority. With so much discouragement stemming naturally from the process of submission, I knew that I needed something—and something fast—to get my motivation back on track. A good editor knows as much about when to be positive as when to be critical, so try to put aside the selfishness of this priority (because there is some) and focus instead on the benefits of adding more of what you do well to your writing.

Establish some communication with the editors you are considering. Personally, I shied away from services who did not identify the exact person who would be doing my editing, because I had plenty of questions, and the answers told me volumes about their nature.

Step Two: Decide who will be honest

To some extent, this contradicts step one, and it must. These days, ‘good service’ has often come to mean ‘sparing the customer’s feelings.’ For this service, though, some feedback you won’t like is essential... otherwise, why even bother seeking advice?

A good editor with some history should be able to provide you with samples of previous work: some of the comments and advice that they have offered other clients. Check these for balance, and for whether you agree with some of the more confronting opinions. Of course, you should only peek if you know that your editor has permission from that author, but authors are famously helpful that way.

Step Three: Decide who is qualified

This one's a no-brainer, but perhaps the most difficult to achieve. "Qualified" is only partly based on a resume that your editor might provide. Have they published any books themselves? Do they have success editing your particular genre? Can you access their work online to see how they write?

If you've been a writer for long, you are bound to know other writers who have had good experiences. Cast as wide a net as you can in polling these colleagues; maybe a good editor's name will even come up twice.

With all of these factors weighed, my eventual choice was Matthew Bird. A prolific blogger, author of successful how-to-write books, and just an approachable human being, it was a fairly simple matter to answer most of the questions that I had. Is the same editor right for everyone? Absolutely not. Will the same editor suit every book I write? Unlikely... but finding an editor, like starting any relationship, will be a much more rewarding experience after steps of due diligence like these three.

Comment me up with any steps that I missed!

* * *
After a lengthy career teaching literature, K. Alan Leitch is now focusing on his own. He is the author of seven novels and dozens of short stories, and the recipient of nine awards for his fiction. Writing in genres that range from Young Adult Fantasy through Murder Mystery, Keith is trying to find, and share, the magical formula that makes it all work. You can sample his fiction, along with his blog, at Words from K. Alan. Follow him on Twitter @KAlanAuthor !

Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!


Margo Dill said...

I think a sample edit is always helpful for both the editor and the writer. Just my two cents. :)

KAlan said...

Yes, that is a great point, and a step I sort of 'accidentally' missed (long story). It worked out, but you are right that a sample edit of the actual work is the best way to assure a fit.

Angela Mackintosh said...

These are great points, Keith! I'll add that not all editors do it all, so be sure to check out what type of editing they do (copyediting, substantive, etc), and to check out their editing samples and testimonials from previous clients. If certifications are important to you, then review those as well. I'm glad you found an editor who was the right fit! :)

Cathy C. Hall said...

Oh, yay, Keith--just saw this post this morning and am so glad you shared your process and experience. Word of mouth from peers is a huge part of finding the right fit, whether it be editing, marketing, or publishing.

I can't wait to see whatever book comes out of this edit, as I'm sure it will!

KAlan said...

Thanks for the supportive comments. Yes, the type of editing is critical, and I actually passed by two candidates because they were primarily copy-editors, which was not my primary need. Some of the trickiest revising is still ahead of me, but I would not even know it was needed if not for the editor.

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