From a bad, or scammy, editor to a good one, this is my take on how I came to, respectfully, love my editor. You can read more about my experience with a bad editor here: Hiring a Developmental Editor – Gone Wrong.
Now, when I say I love my editor, I mean that I really don't have any desire to go anywhere else. Plus, we're friends, so that makes things a bit different, if also a bit complicated. I'll get to that later as it's more about the cons involved with working with a friend or family member. No worries! No boundaries have been crossed here, or friendships broken.
Well, I met Cara Trent, my favorite editor at Midnight Quill, back before she became an editor. I don't want to get too much into her story, but here is my short version of how we met and how she started her company.
Yes, please forgive me. I'm a writer. I wish I had the ability to be concise, but that's not fun for me, so I don't do it very well. I'm also not about to dish out a pretty penny to have someone else come along and tweak my blog to make things shorter.
Back to the topic at hand! I thought that rant would go on for a while. Aaaaaaanyway, Cara joined a writing group I created, and she quickly discovered that while she had a story idea, she much preferred editing or critiquing our stories over working on her own manuscript. After some encouragement from us, she took some classes, (you can see her full list of academic achievements in that area here on her website), and she fell absolutely in love with the editing process.
Now, I enjoy editing, rarely, but Cara actually loves it a whole lot. In fact, those classes, along with our encouragement, motivated her to start her own business. The name, Midnight Quill, is her way of saying she's a night owl and that she does her best work during the darkest hours of the night to the misty hours before dawn (midnight to like 3 or 4am).
My husband, Nicholas Klein, even helped by designing her logo. Oh, and she's working now on taking classes for audiobooks. She really does have a beautiful, soothing voice.
Anyway, the writing group is how we met and how we got to know each other and become friends. It helped that she was high school friends with another member in the group already, so she fit right in. And now, she's my go-to editor.
Currently, Midnight Quill and I have signed a contract for work on Sir Ryac and the Dark Mage. I should have more news on that coming up in May. Prior to that, Cara has provided phenomenal feedback on MAD Upload. Being my first book, it's still incredibly rough around the edges…and in the middle…and just all around. Thanks to Cara's keen observations and friendly feedback, I have a lot to work with to improve my story.
As my writing has improved, I am hopeful that the Ryac story will be smooth enough to finish up sometime this year. I'll just have to wait and see what Cara thinks of the story. Fingers crossed I don't have too much work ahead of me! And that's a ME problem if I do.
Right off the bat, they ask for a sample of your work. That's a very good sign. Their level of communication is speedy, but not desperate, and they mesh well with you. Aside from those basic things, check out the chart below for the good and the bad.
Below are some details regarding the chart above. And yes, those are check marks for good editors while the bad editor traits get the red flags and caution symbols. The red flags are obviously worse the more of them start popping up in your dealings with an editor. The caution symbols are things to be wary of, but that may not indicate a bad editor. Good editors may be confident in their abilities, and so they may not offer refunds or discounts in their contracts. That doesn’t mean that, should circumstances arise, that they won’t do right by their clients. The same is true of the payment section, but I get into more details about it all below.
Feedback shouldn't be all rose petals (those fluff comments we all get in those creative writing classes - "This is nice." "I liked it." "It was ok." "Fun story."), but it shouldn't be all thorns either. Constructive criticism, plus a bit of praise, goes a long way in being listened to and in getting a writer to enact necessary changes. Finding an editor who balances the fun ("I really love this plot point you have going here!") with the not so fun ("This character ran away screaming, and it isn't clear why. Perhaps addressing a phobia or reworking this scene may help.").
Communication is important. While many people don't like being pestered while they are working on a project, it's fair to check in a little bit. Now, just be warned, if someone gets a manuscript of 40,000 or higher and they email saying they started, it's rude to ask them the very next day how it is going. Yes, I know they have your baby (the manuscript), but pestering the minute, hour, day, or even two days after they said they started, that's not good. Now, if they don't tell you they started, it's SO fair to check in on the day they were to begin, or the day after, just to make sure everything is going good.
Now, I'm only saying this because, in my experience, it's usually about a month or more before an editor has been able to work on my manuscript. That's plenty of time for something to have come up. It's a good sign when they email you, without prompting, that they are starting on schedule (or ahead of schedule, if they so choose). A bad sign is when you don't hear anything about them starting on time and they don't email within a day or two of a query from you about the project's timetable.
My only other advice on this is to avoid frequent pestering. If it's a month-long project, then it's going to take a month. No one wants the daily check-in email about how things are going. Artists, myself included, have a tendency to do shittier work when that happens, or to drop a client entirely. It's added stress and it's annoying. Professionals are just better about not letting it show that the work is shittier. In fact, they may do the same level of work, but you better believe they won't be doing anything extra for free. I myself have gone above and beyond for clients, without any fees, simply because I like them or because they are super chill, and I like that. The pains? No freebies. Bare minimum. Sure the work doesn't suffer, but it could have been better.
Discounts and refunds are difficult topics. Many will offer a discount or reduced price if you do multiple services, however, it is their right to deny a discount as they know the work involved. That being said, it never hurts to try negotiating. If negotiations turn nasty, particularly when you aren't being unreasonable (like suggesting partial payment in the form of "exposure") then that could be a red flag. Now, that's not so much a red flag in terms of them ripping you off or being a scam so much as being an indicator that you two are not compatible.
As for refunds, it's always nice to know that the editor has a backup plan. Sure, it sucks if something should go wrong and they can't finish the work you paid for, but if they have a refund policy (full or partial) in place, both your butts are covered. If you ask them what their policy is should they not complete the work or should something not go wrong and THEN they say "No refunds". Run. That is a HUGE red flag. That being said, refunds on the project are different than non-refundable deposits. Non-refundable deposits are legit.
Contracts are a must. Yes, they are a pain to read and to make sure you aren't being screwed over, but a proper contract is there to protect you both. In other words, if a contract has a refund policy stated, you and the editor already know what you are getting into should something go wrong. It's there to set up expectations for the exchange of services - your money, their work. If an editor doesn't have a contract or if it's barely a paragraph long, RUN.
Sample work is twofold. First, this is how an editor knows they are a good fit for a writer. They will or they should turn down work they have no passion for. It's not a bad idea to ask if an editor turns down work as that can give some insight into their standards. Second, if the editor is happy to work on the project, this provides them an opportunity to give you a sample of how they will edit their work. This feedback allows a writer to know if the editor is someone they wish to continue working with as well.
Reviews are how we can spot a scam. No reviews? Either they're new and they don't have them yet, which is something to be potentially wary about, or they are so bad that they removed the reviews. Yes, my bad editor had 0 reviews, except on his website, which no longer has them or his previous works listed.
So, what do you do if they have a bunch of reviews or only a few? Doesn't matter, contact 1-3 of those writers. The writing community is AMAZING. Most writers are happy to talk to a fellow writer to either confirm a good review or to reaffirm a bad one. That means they'll tell you straight if someone has a false review listed on their page. They'll also tell you straight about what it was like working with the editor you have in mind - good or bad.
Talking also helps confirm those reviews weren't made up or from family and friends. After all, if an author and their book is listed, then you should have no problem with a quick internet search of the book. From there, you may find an email or website you can find the author at. If you can't…that's awful sus.
Payment up front, as in before work is contracted or samples are exchanged, etc., could be a sign that you're walking into a scam; however, some people have been burned before and want the money before they hand over the work. Just be careful. It isn't unheard of to pay before a project begins. Likewise, it's also very common to pay before recieving a copy of the edited work. At this point, a contract should already have you both protected, so it isn't as huge of a warning. A flexible payment plan may indicate a scam, but it can also indicate you're dealing with someone who is willing to work with you to make this work for the both of you.
As with all of these points, it is important to understand that one red flag is rarely a bad thing. It's when multiple red flags show up that you should run for the hills and never look back.
Deadlines are huge! It's easy to get caught up in feeling bad for someone and giving them excuses or accepting the ones they give, but if you paid for a service and they set the deadline, you deserve to have YOUR time respected. Don't let them make you feel bad for THEIR shenanigans. When you find an editor who keeps deadlines and does fantastic work, stick to them like crackers merged with baby saliva! It's gross, but I swear it's stronger than glue.
Tying into the review section is that of previous works. If there aren't any, that may be a bad sign. I'm always hesitant to throw someone under the scam bus just because they're new. Still, it does make it difficult to trust someone when they don't have a portfolio of their work, and thus they don't have anyone backing up their claim - in this case them claiming to be a trustworthy editor.
Going back to what I said waaaaay at the beginning, having an editor as a friend can be dangerous to the friendship. There's a reason people warn against mixing business with family and friends. That being said, I'm not worried about that with Cara, at all, but I am bringing it up here more as advice for anyone who also wants or already has an editor friend.
Mixing business and other relationships is difficult. Hurt feelings can put strain on the business end of things or on the personal side. Sometimes, people get taken advantage of, too. If you've ever been good at something, you may already have been a victim of the infamous "family discount" or "friend discount". There's also the famous "payment in exposure" or the "just-starting-out discount".
I don't have to worry about any of these with Cara. She is a superstar with her boundary setting and her communication. And although rejection hurts, as many writers know, it's fine by me to not have a discount. People, yes, that includes artists, deserve to be paid for their work. Properly paid, too. And while an exchange of services can be great, it's important to talk them out ahead of time to make sure no one is blindsided by what they get.
Want to know more about my experience with editors, the good and the bad? Hit me up in the comments below!
May your adventures be many and your inspiration be endless!