I can’t edit my own work well. I know this. And I relearn it every time I release a short story that has not had a third-party’s eyes on it. (Which is why corrected versions of the first two Alexi stories will go up along with the third story.) For book length works, I hire copy and style edits. Copy edits are a no brainer, and I find that I am out of the loop on what terms are now giggle-point-wink-nudge innuendo and what are still OK to use. That’s part of what my style editor does.Thus far I’ve worked with five editors, two for non-fiction and three for fiction. Two have been great, one was not quite as advertised, and two were OK for what they did. I’ve disagreed with all five to some degree, sometimes because they are not familiar with something that is peculiar to the book and is not an error, once because of difference in discipline’s conventions (social sciences APA vs. history/Chicago) and once because, well, I had no idea what the editor meant but I could tell it was a bad recommendation.
I hire my fiction editors and one of the non-fiction (that at a publisher’s request.) Copy editing is very demanding and detail focused, and I find that I get what I pay for. I’ve never paid less than $.55 US per page (double spaced, I provided the tech Bible and terms list). I often pay more, especially for the Cat books, because they are most likely to have odd stuff. And because they need the usually gentle hand of Nas Hedron, style editor to the not-exactly-stars-yet. He’s a master at catching places where I left out a word, where the ghost of an old draft lingers on, terms that are now innuendo (curse you, pop culture), and typoos. And homophone or homonym glitches that I miss and SpellCheck won’t flag. He also smooths out rough prose and flags unclear spots, or places where I elide too much of the action. He is worth every penny, in my opinion, and I am a much better writer because of is work. I’ve learned a great deal from him.
My non-fiction editor was quite good, although with a lighter touch because of the work already put into the manuscript. A few places were toned down, a sentence was added that I did not agree with but that is part of the current convention, and some personal quirks got toned down without losing the humor or sense of the passage. A separate specialist made the index, and a third person went through the end-notes and bibliography. (FYI, if you use electronic sources? Triple check them after you get ready for almost-final edits. It is much, much easier to catch things as you go than to do one massive document hunt and site confirmation pass. And to dig up alternate sources after that great web site gets pulled down and can’t even be found on the Way-Back Machine.)
I’ve hired a straight copy editor who did good work. That individual missed a couple of typos (name spelling) that Sepll-Chuck missed as well (because both are valid alternatives. Yeah, that one.) That person had life develop (relocation, new baby, spousal stuff, work stuff) but managed to get my things done on time even so.
What about the not-so-great editor? The individual came from a different discipline, revealed half-way through the process that they did not know exactly what they were supposed to be doing, and did not accomplish what was needed. I suspect that in their own field, as a copy editor or outside reader, they are great. But that’s not what I got, and it led to difficulties for me. They also worked very slowly, and if I had been on a hard deadline, my rump would have been chewed by the publisher.
So I’ve had a range of experiences with editors. How do you find a good one? Look at websites for info, both good and bad. Ask your writing associates who they recommend (or recommend against). See if the genres match, especially if you want a style edit. Try a sample edit if that is available. Always, always agree on the price up front, on what exactly you want, and how heavy a hand you want. I really appreciate that Nas provides reason for some of his recommendations. I don’t always agree, but seeing why thus-n-such might need to be changed helps a great deal. I also provide the series or tech Bible. If you have a lot of idiosyncratic terms or names, this is crucial, because they can be copy edited. There’s nothing like misspelling a made-up word to make you look like an amateur. Also discuss language matters. I am misspelling a lot of Hungarian names because I do not have the correct fonts for the long umlauted vowels. If Nas knows where I can get that font, then I’ll go through and clean as many up as are feasible. And then check a sample with my formatting specialist to make certain that they will work. (I’ve noticed that some special letters do not translate well on e-readers.)