I have heard so many horror stories about editors and experienced a few myself. If an author is uncertain about an editor, most editors will do one sample chapter or 10 pages (whichever comes first) for free to give the author an idea of their style. Edits can be very intense and I would encourage authors to listen if they keep hearing the same things about their work from different sources. That said, they also don’t need an editor who is so brutal they never want to pick up a pen again.
You know, Rob, I’ve learned people offer their services for pay for a variety of reasons, and they live in a variety of circumstances. Some do it just to make a little side money, because they love the creativity…it’s not everyone who’s doing it because it’s their main livelihood. Others are new to the field and don’t feel they can command more. And sometimes, maybe you connect with someone who’s affordable, but they still do a great job.
I have taught college preparatory English, writing, and grammar, for the last 18 years. My experience as a teacher makes me uniquely qualified to edit works for fluidity of thought and content, accuracy of grammar, and clarity. As a teacher, I have become a master communicator. Paying attention to detail is a requirement in the English field and something I have mastered.
When you get that email, particularly if it's your first book, make sure you are well-rested and in a positive frame of mind before you open it. If it’s your first book, the editing process will be hard on your ego, but remember, the editor’s job is to make your book better and help you learn the craft. You are paying for them to give you critical feedback, not to pat you on the back and say ‘good job.'
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If you know you are sensitive to changes, or that you only want edits that correct what’s wrong (and not subjective edits beyond that), tell the editor so. This kind of information is invaluable, and will prevent frustrations and misunderstandings. That said, don’t suggest this if you’re open to your work being better. Editors will bring your work to a whole other level if you’re able to loosen your grip on any notion that your creative expression is under attack when an editor makes changes to your work. The most successful authors are edited multiple times over.
I say “most of your desired criteria” because it’s rare to find an editor who will meet all your criteria. For instance, you may have to pay a few hundred to a few thousand dollars more for your top pick. Or, you may find someone at your precise price point, but their experience isn’t quite what you’d like it to be. You must be the one to assess what trade-offs you’re willing to make.