I asked a number of authors I’ve worked with recently if they’d be willing to write a comment about their experience of working with me as an editor. I told them that over the last six years of free-lancing I’d become acutely aware of what a difficult situation a writer looking for editorial help finds him or herself in, not knowing the ins and outs of publishing, not knowing the reputation or track record of any of the people they might be dealing with — basically working in the dark. Indeed, I’d started to joke that choosing a free-lance editor was a lot like choosing a shrink — there really is no good way to do it; you simply have to pick somebody and try them and see if the pairing works out. The proof of the pudding and all that. But I thought that perhaps hearing about the experiences of other people might help such writers in their search and decision making process.
The unedited responses which are printed below initially surprised me in their diversity, but of course it makes sense — the main thing an editor has to do is respond appropriately to the person and text before him. There is no cookie-cutter process here; different writers and different manuscripts require different, and appropriate, responses. Sometimes it’s the over-all structure that needs work, sometimes it’s line editing, sometimes it’s characterization, etc. This is why I often find myself at a loss when talking with a potential client who asks how I’ll approach their manuscript, worried about what I’ll do to their book. I’m always tempted to say, Ask me when I’ve finished. In truth, how would I know before I’ve actually done the editing? Not a reasonable answer, I know, so I restrain myself. But to come back to the proof of the pudding: the thing that matters is whether the manuscript gets better or not, which is what makes the analogy to choosing a shrink quite precise.
In any event, here are some comments by other writers I’ve worked with that might help you in your decision making process. Or not.