What to expect from an Editor, Part 2.

This is the second part of my thoughts about editing. In the first part I talked a little at random about the qualities of a good book and a good story, and also the qualities of a good editor. Today I am focusing on what an editor should actually do.

Part 2: What to Expect from an Editor

All editors are not alike. Each will have his preferred methodology. Each will have strengths and weaknesses, just like a writer. I am aware that there are editors whose principle is that there are a few "standard" ways of writing a good (or saleable) book, and they will coerce your text into meeting the standard. This may well suit you. One might be tempted to divide editors into those who edit to create a commercial success and those who edit to help the writer improve his work. This would be wrong for a couple of reasons. Firstly, commercial success is too much of a chimera for an editor to be able to suggest a few changes to get. Secondly, editors are trying to make a living too. Thirdly, the landscape of the marketplace is changing due to e-publishing, and I hope ... expect that the change will favour authors' individuality. (More about this another time.)

As I intimated in Part 1, what a writer ought to get by working with an editor is a better book.

I'm going into opinion here - so don't hesitate to disagree, especially if you are an editor. An editor needs to be a rigorous, skilled critic, and an ally. Here are the things I think an editor must provide:
  1. Detailed analysis of the flaws in your text, and some suggestions as to how to correct the flaws
  2. Analysis of opportunities for improvement of your text. Opportunities are not missing elements (those come under flaws). Your editor must be able to show you where and how you can make additions to your narrative that will make it stronger.
There are also a couple of things that an editor should be able to provide:
  1.  A view of the possibility of favourable or unfavourable comparison with other books or writers, and suggestions of how to deal with this. This is especially important for new writers, but becoming less important for writers with a well established style in the indie market.
  2. Mentoring.  While a master gives instruction, a mentor shows you how to improve yourself. The best editors do this for their writers. And all writers can improve. I think an editor should be able to give advice and make suggestions that will help the author to write better next time.
So what in concrete terms should you get for your money? At the very least, you should get your text back from the editor with lots of notes in the margin. Much as I am loath to say so, MSWord is very good for this purpose. Some editors will not touch spelling, grammar and punctuation until you deliver a final draft. Others will do it as they go. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Any other changes that the editor makes should come with some explanation. I don't usually apply literary corrections directly to the text. I prefer to flag the problem, explain it, and let the author make the correction, as I think this helps the author to assert his personal style, and to learn.

I think the editor's job is to help the author to improve his book, not to correct the author's book for him.

I also like to provide a summary of my editorial notes. This includes a short literary analysis, and details of any general issues that I think the author needs to address. This is valuable because it is hard for the author to get a view of any global issues when reading notes in the margin. I also like to chat with authors (via Skype call) - though I understand entirely why this is not possible for other editors. 

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