In the two decades that I’ve been writing, I’ve worked with editors of fiction, newspapers, blogs, and even poetry. I’ve met some great editors, and some not-so-great editors. Sometimes the differences are subtle, sometimes they’re stark.

Many writers believe that because they can write, they can edit, too. However, writing and editing are two very different skills. The longer you stay in one mode, the more difficult it becomes to switch back to the other.

When writing, it’s important to get an objective point of view on your work. No matter how objective we think we are, at the end of the day, it’s a piece of writing that we’ve invested our time and maybe a little bit of our soul into, too. That’s why editing our own work is so difficult. And why getting a separate editor is so important.

There are different kinds of edits, which I’ll cover in a future blog post. This post is a general overview of all editing, so covers everything from developmental edits to copyedits.

Editing is most important in fiction and nonfiction, but it’s worth considering for poetry, too. Poetry editing is far more niche, but without objective feedback, it can be difficult to improve.

But how do you find an editor who will help you to make your piece the best it can be? How do you know if you’ve found the right person?

Signs of a great editor

1. They comment on the good and the bad

A great editor knows that there are always things you can do to improve.

The best editors know that it can be difficult to read in-depth critique of your work, that’s why they’ll include positive comments, too. This makes the negative comments easier to digest and reminds you that no matter how many weaknesses you may have, you still have your strengths, too. It also allows you to get a feel for what works in your piece, and what doesn’t.

2. Their comments are constructive

When you’re editing your own work it’s fine to leave comments that say ‘this isn’t good’, but when someone else is going through your work, they should say why something doesn’t work. The more detail they give, the better.

3. When they butcher something, it’s for a good reason

Editors can be harsh sometimes, and that can be difficult to digest. However, a great editor will only butcher your work for a good reason—to make it better.

When they come back to you with their notes, take some time to process them before you respond. Your first instinct may be that they’re wrong, but the second may be that actually, they have a point.

4. They go through everything with a fine-toothed come

The best editors take their time with your work. They pick up on the minutiae that you’re unlikely to notice because you’ve spent so long working on your piece.

How much depth they go into will depend on the kind of edit you go for, but whatever kind of edit you choose, they should pick up on everything.

Great editors go through your work with a fine-toothed comb.

5. They’re not afraid of hurting your feelings/offending you

In order to improve, we must put personal feelings aside and focus on the work before us. If your editor is your friend, this can be difficult, but the harsher someone is with your work, the faster you’ll improve. If your editor doesn’t push you, nobody will.

In order to improve, we must put personal feelings aside and focus on the work before us. Click To Tweet

6. They view your work objectively, even if you’re friends

The best editors are 100% objective.

There are no exceptions.

The best editors are 100% objective. There are no exceptions. Click To Tweet

The best editors will always see the work first. It doesn’t matter how long they’ve known you or how close you are, they should always think first about how to make the piece better, and how it will be perceived by your audience. Their personal feelings shouldn’t factor into things anymore than your feelings should.

Some editors will offer you their personal opinion on your piece as well as their professional one. That’s fine, so long as they can differentiate the two.

Personal opinions are about how a piece makes you feel; professional opinions factor in technical details. For example, in a novel, professional opinions include things like plot, character depth, how easy the piece is to read, grammar, and spelling.

Personal opinions are about how a piece makes you feel; professional opinions factor in… Click To Tweet

7. They maintain your authorial voice

This is the ultimate sign of a great editor. A great editor knows that it’s about you first, and them second.

A great editor knows that it's about you first, and them second. Click To Tweet

I’ve had many, many editors go through my work and make it sound like them instead of me. This can lead to a disjointed piece that sounds awkward when read.

Editors that try to change your authorial voice will change large parts of text and turns of phrase purely because they don’t like them. If it’s for a publication there’s little you can do, but if you get the final say, remember that editor’s comments are just guidelines—you should consider their comments, but you don’t have to do everything they say.

Over to You

What do you think the signs of a great editor are? I’d love to hear what you think in the comments!