All too often I hear about 'bad' editors who either attempt to rewrite an author's manuscript or who simply aren't qualified to do the job. Editing is more than proofreading. It's also not a skill that can be faked.
Here are the things an editor should offer:
• Professional credentials. Yes, everyone, this is a profession and needs to be respected as such. How long has the person been in the business? What sort of experience do they have? Are they educated?
• Comprehensive editing. This includes story development suggestions/critique, knowledge of show vs tell, grammar, continuity issues, and basic proofreading.
• Editorial notes. It is standard for an editor to provide you a summary of both the good and 'in need of improvement' aspects of your manuscript.
• A contract. A written agreement protects both the author and the editor. It should cover all that is expected from both parties, including deadlines and payment methods.
• At least two rounds of edits. A complete edit cannot happen in one sitting. There needs to be at least two rounds of back and forth with the author. The first round usually consists of a thorough, comprehensive edit complete with suggestions and editorial notes. The second is a read through of the author's revisions to clean up any resulting fall-out in structure and proofreading. The cost should include this and should also be stated in the contract.
Frequently Asked Questions:
• Should a legitimate editor edit a few chapters for free to get a 'feel' for each other? My answer is: do you write for free? The answer is no. There is no guarantee in this scenario that you will hire the editor and, for all the editor knows, you may simply want to polish the first three chapters to submit to an agent. Do not base your choice of editor on whether or not he/she will give you a free sample edit. Editing takes time and, as the saying goes, time is money,
• What if I don't like the suggestions my editor makes? Well, that is your perrogative. Ultimately, it is your story. The editor can only make suggestions based on their knowledge and experience. Editors also know that you need to stay true to your vision. However, before outright rejecting what your editor says, think on it carefully and decide what would be best for your story.
• How do I know if an editor is reasonably priced? That's a good question. You can go to the Editorial Freelancers Association for a list of national averages (US) here: http://www.the-efa.org/res/rates.php Also, look at a few different editors, see if they have references or a workload you can see. As with most things in life, cheapest isn't always the best option.
• Why is a professional editor preferable over my Aunt Sue who is an avid reader? Unless Aunt Sue is an educated editor or published author, I would suggest avoiding that scenario. Professional editors come with an education and experience. Aunt Sue may also try to protect your feelings. An editor--a good one--will be honest in a constructive way.
• What is the difference between a beta reader and an editor? A beta reader will let you know if the story is any good, or if there are story 'holes' and things of that nature. An editor goes deeper to the structure of the book that a novice simply can't see--unless it's a faulty structure, in which case a reader will simply say "there's something not right here." An editor will pinpoint what's not right so you can fix it.
• What if I only want something proofread? Well, I would ask you 'why.' Traditionally published authors have their manuscripts scrutinized in a comprehensive edit. Why do you feel you don't need that same scrutiny?
I've covered most of the bases here, but will gladly answer any other questions you have in the comments below. Write on!