As most of you know, I review Christian books at Interviews & Reviews and for Christian Life in London. On average I receive about three or four requests a week for a book review. Most of the review requests I receive are from self-published authors. However, I have had the pleasure of some of my favourite authors contacting me for a review, along with publicists and agents who have heard about me through Interviews & Reviews.
Usually books coming from publishing houses or agents have been through a thorough edit and have been proofread. And most self-published authors who are serious about their craft have invested in a good edit as well. But today I want to talk to those of you who are new to writing in general and are considering self-publishing or thinking about traditional publishing. It is a warning really. Beware of people who say they are editors.
An editor is first and foremost not your mother, your best friend, or someone who "thinks" they are good at catching grammatical errors. If this is who you have been using to edit your book, stop right now, you are doing yourself no favours. When I receive a book where the author has assured me it has been through an edit and I discover typos, grammatical errors, the frequent use of words like "just" (see my post on punctuation) and the over-use of exclamation points, I know their "editor" is either their mother, or someone who thinks proofreading is the same as editing. They aren't.
So What Should You Look for in an Editor?
There are no degree or education requirements for a good editor. However, having at least a bachelor's degree in English, journalism or communications certainly wouldn't hurt. A good editor will help you become a better writer. And a good writer will take the advice of their editor!
When looking for an editor a good suggestion I heard the other day is to ask them for a sample edit. Give them two or three pages from your manuscript and see what they do with it. If they catch your typos - great! If they suggest more appropriate wording - even better. But, if they send it back and say, "It looks great, I wouldn't change a thing." Don't hire them! You may be a good writer, but no one is that perfect. Here are some things you should look for in an editor:
A good editor has a critical eye. That doesn't mean they are critical, difficult people. It means they are unbiased in how they approach your work. Unlike your best friend or mother, who may point out a typo or two, but would never dare suggest you re-write a chapter. Whereas an editor might suggest you re-write a chapter and then after you do, he/she may suggest you re-write it again.
Yes, editing might sound like someone is trying to change your words into their words. And sometimes you may disagree with your editor's suggestions. But in the end you must look at your work with a critical eye as well, because ultimately you will show your manuscript to a publisher or an agent, or you may show it to a reviewer like me. And while I may contact the author and suggest she/he edit their book and resubmit it, publishers don't have the time or patience to point out your mistakes. They will see that it has not been edited and will pass it off as amateurish and move on to the next manuscript in their pile.