1: Does your copy editor know, read and respect your genre? My genre is epic fantasy. It’s a tough genre. You’re dealing with unusual words, spellings and definitions—often times made up, or referencing an archaic bit of knowledge no one knows, but you. If your editor isn’t privy to all the nuances of your genre, they may steer you in the wrong direction. An editor once changed the word “flyting” – which is a contest of insults in Viking culture, to “flying” – which made absolutely no sense in the context of the sentence. I realized that correction meant I did a poor job of explaining the term, but it also sent up a warning signal about the editor, namely, that she didn’t understand my genre. A good editor would have asked about the term and asked me to clarify the term to the reader so that it could be understood, not randomly corrected a wrongly assumed misspelling.
2: Do they understand and honor your style preferences? This one really tweaks me. I’ve been writing for years. Okay, decades, to be clear about this point. In that time, I’ve developed a sense of what I prefer stylistically. For instance, I may ignore the conjunction “and” and use a sentence fragment to speed up the reader’s urgency when the story conflict is rising. I may also prefer the Oxford comma over the modern alternative of no comma. If your editor continues to change your preferred “style” – I am not talking about bad grammar – I am talking pure style, here – then it’s frustrating for the author and strips away your ability to tell a story in your own voice.
3: Do they have a good story sense? If they are simply correcting grammar, you’re in trouble. If a copy editor can’t see past the construction of words, to the whole of the story, they are missing the big picture.
4: Have they edited professionally? This seems like a no brainer, but if your copy editor has not been hired as a copy editor in some capacity, you become their learning curve. I don’t know about you, but I want someone whose editing experience outweighs my own. I want someone who knows the answers when I ask the questions. Self-published authors have to compare to traditionally published authors, so our editors should be top-notch, too. Just because they hang a sign on their door (or website) doesn’t mean they are qualified. Just because they’ve edited a couple of their friends books doesn’t make them qualified either. I prefer an editor with years of experience in either a traditional publishing field, or a corporate arena. If they’ve been paid for “years” to copy edit by a company, then they are used to performing at a higher standard.
5: Did their free sample edit raise red flags? If I heeded the warning signs on this one, I would have saved myself a lot of headaches. My first sample edit came back (from the first editor I tried) with questionable edits. I remember thinking, “this editor has all the training and experience, so she must know better than me, right?” Always listen to your gut response. Even if you didn’t acquire an MFA in writing, you’ve been reading (and I would assume prolifically) since childhood. If you question a sample edit—get a second opinion before making that down payment, or simply move on. I can guarantee it will save you time, money, and stress.
6: Do they provide an editing timeline that is both quick and gives them ample time to do the work they are hired to accomplish? It’s tempting to get a 48-hour turnaround, but is that realistic? I can’t even edit my own MS in 48 hours; why would I expect an editor to perform the level of detail and attention required for a good edit in that little amount of time? On the flip side, if they require 3 months, I would assume they are so booked, you’re still not getting the attention your MS requires.
7: Will they reread your book once you’ve gone through their edits? Most editors I have come across, with the exception of my current editor, gave my MS a “once through” – here’s your edits! That never works. You never agree with everything. As you work through the copy edits, you have questions, or changes and those need to be addressed by the editor to ensure a clean manuscript. If all you get is a, “Hey, here’s my suggestions, you’re on your own now,” you’re wasting your money.
8: Are they collaborative in their approach to editing? This goes with the above question. A good editor should be open to questions and a back and forth editing style. My first editor didn’t respond to half my questions, or took over a week to respond with a placating answer. This doesn’t strengthen your manuscript; it weakens it.
9: Are they looking for a paycheck or an opportunity to build a relationship? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt like I was “rushed out the door” after they made the copy edit “sell.” Bad editors? They push you through their one-time quickie, giving you as little as possible to pass as an “edit” and send you on your way, looking for the next check to deposit. Great editors are looking for repeat clients, clients whose writing they love and respect. Great editors look for partnerships and feel as passionately about your project as you do. They want to be there for the long haul.
10: Do they understand the world of self-publishing? Self-pub is a different game with unique rules. If your copy editor doesn’t understand that, they may be suggesting corrections that don’t fit your publishing goals.
If I had asked myself the above 10 questions, I could have saved myself a lot of time, headaches and worry. I hope these questions help you navigate the often-times disappointing gauntlet of finding a copy editor that works for you.
Who’s my copy editor, you ask? Ann Mauren, of AMDesign Studios, not only rescued me from the abyss of bad editors, but she’s a bestselling romantic suspense author with a special sensitivity for what authors need in this fast-paced, sometimes cruel, self-publish business.
Ann has recently edited my newest release “The Light Keepers” available for free. You can check out her work by downloading the book from Smashwords. I’ll update these links when the book is available for free on B&N and Amazon. Ann comes highly recommended as I’ve been “burned” by editors while trying to launch my writing career. Her attention to detail, style and voice sensitivity, and dedication to a job well done won me over and taught me to ask the above questions when dealing with copy editors.