5 Qualities in an Editor You’ll Want to Hire
Updated: May 29
It’s important to find an editor who strikes the right balance in all the right areas.
If you're a writer, you know that the road to a finished novel can be long and winding. There are plot holes to fill, characters to develop, and scenes to craft. And once you've finally written your first draft, there’s more work ahead—editing. That's where a good editor comes in.
A good editor can be the difference between a book that falls flat and a book that fits your vision. So, what are the qualities of an editor you’ll want to hire? Here are a few to look out for as you find the right match.
1. Detail-Oriented, Not Obsessive.
You want an editor who will catch all the little things, like spelling errors, inconsistencies, and grammar mistakes. But you don't want someone who is so obsessed with details that they lose sight of the big picture. An editor’s goal is to deliver a story-sound and error-free manuscript while also maintaining the author’s unique voice and vision—which may mean deviating from the standard rules at times. If your editor is spending hours debating a sentence you purposely left fragmented, it might be time to find a new editor.
Detail-oriented editors will go beyond catching grammatical errors; they will keep track of names of characters and settings, ensure descriptions across multiple chapters or books are consistent, and point out details that detract from a scene. These editors will also develop a good understanding of your writing style so they can help strengthen your voice.
2. Honest, Not Brutal.
You want an editor who will be honest with you about your work. But you don't want someone who is so brutal with their feedback that you end up in the fetal position under your desk. You’ll want to hire an editor who gives you constructive criticism and uses their expertise to make actionable suggestions that will help improve your work without making you want to quit writing forever.
An editor you’ll want to hire will appropriately challenge your ideas, suggest new solutions, and push you to make your work the best it can be. The editor you hire should not be a family member or friend who is afraid to hurt your feelings. If your editor agrees with everything you say, they're probably not doing their job. Conversely, if your editor pushes back on every single idea you have, you’ll want to find a new one who will be open to your ideas and help you refine them.
3. A Collaborator, Not a Know-It-All
You’ll want to hire an editor who can spot problems and come up with creative solutions to fix them. You don't want someone who thinks they know everything about your story and takes it over. A good editor will work with you to find the best possible solution to a problem, whether it be a plot hole, a character inconsistency, or a pacing issue, without acting like they're the only one with the answers.
A professional editor with years of experience under their belt can identify what elements in your novel work and don’t work on an objective level. They have insights into the publishing industry and your novel’s genre and intended audience. However, they should not push you and your novel into a box; instead, they should use their knowledge to help you find solutions that will make your novel better. Editing is a collaborative process, and your editor should listen to your feedback, explain their own, and support you in finding solutions to any issue that arises.
4. Responsive, Not Passive
You want an editor who demonstrates good communication skills and is responsive to your inquiries or concerns. You don’t want someone who leaves you waiting for an update for extended periods. A good editor will respect your publishing timeline and promptly inform you about any unexpected delays or changes in the editing schedule. They will communicate openly and honestly, ensuring that you are aware of any potential impact on the project's completion.
A responsive editor actively engages in dialogue and fosters an open line of communication. They are approachable and will take the time to ensure you understand their suggestions and feedback. If there are any areas where their comments may be unclear or require further clarification, they will gladly provide additional explanations and examples.
5. Empowering, Not Cynical
You want an editor who will empower you along the ups and downs of your writing journey. You don’t want someone who is so cynical and jaded that they end up discouraging you. A good editor should believe in your work and take your publishing goals seriously while also sharing their knowledge of the industry. Your editor can help you determine which publishing route to take and what you might expect throughout the publishing process.
A good editor refrains from cynicism and discouragement, understanding that writing is a journey of continuous learning and improvement. Every author has room to grow, and a good editor will foster that growth and potential instead of tearing you down or belittling your efforts. They understand the significance of their role in shaping your manuscript and will help you navigate the editing process with enthusiasm and motivation. A truly empowering editor will acknowledge your strengths and help you leverage them to their fullest potential.
Editing isn't just a job to most editors—it's a passion. An editor you’ll want to hire loves books and the process of helping authors create works of art.
When you find the right editor who possesses these positive qualities, the editing process will be a worthwhile endeavor. You will look back on the editing process as a transformative journey, one that has refined your writing, deepened your understanding of storytelling, and propelled you toward your goals as an author.