What makes a good editor? Is it their knowlege of grammar, punctuation and spelling? That’s an important part of it, for sure, but correcting grammar, punctuation and spelling is only one part of editing. That’s what a copy editor does. But the developmental editing and line editing are just as important in the production of quality writing, and different skills are required for the different areas. A good editor in one area is not necessarily a good editor in all areas, and it takes more than a fancy piece of paper from a top university to make a good editor because in all but the copy editing and proofing, good editing relies on artistry and intuitive understanding of the author’s intentions as much as knowledge. So what makes a good editor?
What makes a good structural/developmental editor?
This is the person that does your manuscript appraisal and tells you how to improve the big story elements – the plot, characterisation, pacing, structure, dialogue, information delivery, descriptions and so on. A good developmental editor has the ability to:
- recognise what the author is trying to do and evaluate the book in accordance with their aim,
- pick out the main thrust of a story and know how to pare back what is extraneous,
- see the underlying concepts and know how to strengthen them,
- see what isn’t in the book and should or could be,
- analyse the strength of the various elements of fiction and suggest improvements.
What makes a good line editor?
This is the person who, among other things, improves your prose. A good line editor has the ability to:
- hold the details of characters, descriptions, action and timing in order to remove unnecessary repetition and pick up continuity issues,
- restructure sentences to vary their constructions, provide aesthetically pleasing rhythims, turn passive into active prose where relevant and so on,
- pick up unrealistic or stilted dialogue and rephrase it into something more natural.
- remove overwriting and generally cut the clutter.
What makes a good copy editor?
This is the person who primarily corrects the grammar, punctuation and spelling. They need to have knowledge of grammar, punctuation and spelling and how to apply them in different circumstances. They should also know the areas in which language is changing and, therefore, where the ‘rules’ are somewhat flexible. They should know when it is appropriate to leave poor grammar and spelling in direct speech as in dialects. They should be familiar with a set style (the Chicago Manual of Style is the common one used for US books) and work to that so that the conventions the book follows are consistent.
What makes a good proofreader?
This is the person who checks for errors, things the other editors may have missed, like the typos that got through. The same knowledge as above plus the ability to focus on each sentence as a separate unit and see what is actually there rather than what we assume is there. A good proofreader keeps themselves aloof from what they are reading. Being swept away by a good story is the prime reason for missing typos. Reading from the back of a book to the beginning is a way to avoid getting caught up in the story and is a recommended proofing practice. A good proofreader will also flag any issues they find in continuity, language usage and references.
What makes a good editor in general?
A good editor also has good people and communication skills. They know when and how to explain their reasons for suggestions and are encouraging and supportive whilst inspiring the author to stretch their writing to greater heights. They are patient, honest, enthusiastic about your book, can work to deadlines and have no egotistical investment in the work. They assist the author to create the book the author wants to create. They know not only how to retain the author’s voice and vision but also how to strengthen it. They don’t seek to replace it with their own.
Copy editors and proofreaders primarily require knowledge and precision, whereas developmental and line editors, as well as knowledge, require good analytical and creative problem-solving skills. At the developmental and line editing stages, editing is as much as art as it is a skill.
How do you find a good editor?
Check their qualifications for sure, but most importantly check their recommendations from other authors. Read their blog, watch their videos and see if their words and approach resonate with you. Remember that you will have to work closely with this person, and you need to trust that they will understand you as well as do a good job. It’s also a good idea to choose someone who is a partner member of the Alliance of Independent Authors because you know they only partner with ethical people.
Can you think of anything else that makes a good editor?