C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

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Identifying a good editor is about chair placement

I’ve worked with several editors over the years. Mostly, the experience has been good. If you work with enough people though, you get a horror story. The bad editors have one thing in common: they think it’s about them and they bleed self-importance. (Beware: at the editing stage, it’s not generally about the author, either. It’s about the reader.)


Bad editors are: 

1. Belittling, condescending and even angry.

Let’s face it, for some people, editing is a power thing. They love to tell people what to do and where they are wrong because it feels great to be right. Editors like this don’t have a lot of authors who return to the whipping room for another go, however. Life’s too short. If you’re looking for a fight, there are better ways to use that energy.

One person tried to be abusive with me once and their lure was a very low fee. “Wow! You mean I get the privilege of being your bitch for a very low fee? Gee, thanks, but no.” (Hint: if you try to sell your editorial services this way, that’s a paddlin’.)

2. Lazy.

One editor went through the last few pages of a manuscript in a sad effort to convince me she’d gone through the whole thing. That set my production schedule back three months.

3. Frustrated writers.

A friend of mine was an editor and I got a chance to see her in action. When she was done, the book still had the author’s name on it, but it should have been her name on the cover. When the edits are intrusive or delete the author’s voice, it’s time for the editor to write his or her own book instead of mucking up someone else’s dream.

I could go on with a long list of bad editing practices. Many of you probably have a horror story or two to share. Instead, let’s focus on what good (and great) editors have in common.

The good editors I’ve known all do the same thing:

Picture a desk. This is the work desk the editor and author will use, virtual or literal.

Visualize the chairs. See where the chairs are around said desk?

The skilled editor who works best with authors places the chair on the same side of the desk and works beside the writer.

Working with a good editor feels good.


The relationship does not devolve into a hostage negotiation. It’s a team effort and the author is the captain of the team because their name will be on the cover forever.

The good editor is honest, but flexible enough to allow for stylistic choices. Some choices are objectively right or wrong. A bunch aren’t. Suggestions are welcome, but the author gets the final say on what he or she wants to do. Rigidity is the enemy of Art and good editors and authors know that. (Hint: Sentence fragments can be cool. They are not worse than herpes plus Shia Labeouf compounded by our sun exploding on Thursday afternoon while Yoko Ono sings)

Good editors have a light touch on the text because they don’t start off assuming all writers are idiots in need of discipline and more education. They may end up there, of course. Some of us aren’t that bright. However, good editors aren’t so cynical that they begin Chapter 1 that way and they never let their eye rolls and contempt show.

Good and great editors have diplomatic skills as well as sharp eyes. Even when a heavier hand on the text is required, good authors can become great by accepting suggestions with grace.

Good and great editors are out there. When you find one, hold on tight.

~ Let’s cleanse the palate. Time for a sneak peek at This Plague of Days 3? Go to ThisPlagueOfDays.com for a new excerpt. TPOD3 and This Plague of Days, The Complete Three Seasons launches June 15th!

Filed under: Editing, Editors, , , , , , ,

10 Responses

  1. Reblogged this on Books: Publishing, Reading, Writing and commented:
    I’m reblogging this post by Robert Chazz Chute because it’s a great explanation of what makes a good editor – and it also describes my editor to a tee. So I’d like to dedicate this reblog to my editor, Rachel Small!

  2. Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog….. An Author Promotions Enterprise! and commented:
    My New York Blog Partner Susan Uttendorfsky is one of the Good Editors 😀

  3. Reblogged this on New Author -Carole Parkes and commented:
    For those of us with no experience of editors, here’s what to look out for.

  4. Reblogged this on UPON HIS DEATH BED and commented:
    How to Recognize a Good Editor . . .

  5. adstarrling says:

    I agree with what you’ve said. I’ve been very lucky with mine so far and feel like they are members of my team, with all of us pulling in the same direction to give the reader the best experience possible.

  6. Reblogged this on The Writers' Workshop Blog and commented:
    This might interest anyone thinking of finding an editor, or anyone thinking of changing the one they have.

  7. Mira Prabhu says:

    Enjoyed this very much…yes, its tough to find a good editor, especially for the kind of metaphysical work that I write…

  8. Reblogged this on Author P.S. Bartlett and commented:
    You had me at: “Working with a good editor feels good.”
    #1 is a killer. This person masks their sadistic self importance in “But it’s for your own good,” as if it’s like hiding an aspirin in honey. NO, it is nothing at all like that. It burns all the way down. Thank you Chazz. Someone had to say it. 🙂

  9. I agree. I’ve been in the writing game 30 years and have had all these experiences with proof-editors. The worst have to be the ‘frustrated writers’. I’ve run into that a few times – the worst in a rather awkward blend with the ‘corporate’ requirements of the bigger houses. When I saw this particular proofed MS, a NF book in which even the factual data of the peer-reviewed content had been changed (the proof-editor, it seems, knew best), I rejected the whole lot and told them to find a competent proof-editor. No deal. I think the issue was budgetary – they’d spent the money on the editor. OK, I said, I’ll pull the book – my moral right not to have my work subject to derogatory treatment. I’ve been writing for commercial publishers for decades, 50+ books so far, and that was the first time I’d had to threaten that particular nuke. The story had a happy ending, but it wasn’t a great experience all up.

    The counter-experience? I’ve got a book in press just now, discussed the process with my editor and asked, by name, for a particular proof-editor – one who’s known for his quality, the exact criteria you’ve noted here. ‘Sure,’ they said. It IS a team effort, even when working with the big houses, as I was here. And so everyone’s happy.

  10. Loved this, and it is so true! I would only add a “beware of editors masquerading as reviewers in order to get new business” point to your excellent ones!

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