I’ve said it before, but I’m going to say it again: there are too many bad freelance editors on the Internet. Most of the time, writers never realize they hired a bad editor, or if they do, it’s already too late.
I’ve already written about how you can spot a bad or unskilled editor based on his website or an email interaction. But what if you’ve already hired an editor? What if during the process you wonder if your editor is really as good as he claims to be?
Here are some signs that your editor is a bad one. If you suspect that you’ve hired a bad editor, fire him and try to get your money back. Even if you can’t get the money, you need to stop wasting your time with someone who is doing more bad than good for your manuscript.
1. Changes Your Manuscript
The biggest red flag is when s/he makes changes to your manuscript. This is not the same as RECOMMENDING changes. That’s what real editors do. And I’m also not talking about inserting a comma then or there, moving two words around, or fixing a spelling error.
I’m talking about big changes like:
- Inserting additional adjectives and adverbs
- Changing the meaning of your sentences, changing either words or the whole sentence structure
- Deleting or adding sentences and paragraphs
- Changing descriptions of places, characters, and other things
- Adding or deleting dialogue
- Changing your characters’ personalities, goals, and motives
- Deleting or adding scenes
- Changing your voice
- Changing your plot and story
Even worst, you’ll know if you have a bad editor if he is inserting grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors.
Editors don’t rewrite anything. They comment and point out problems for you. At the end of the day, the writer is the one who has to make changes.
It’s YOUR story, not the editor’s.
2. Hidden Fees
A good editor will be upfront about time and costs. He will usually estimate them before he begins his job. If you’re getting fee after fee, that is a huge sign that your editor just wants your money and has no interest in helping you. It might even be a scam.
If later on an editor realizes that he has to do more work than he estimated, he will be honest about it, but he won’t be sending you fee after fee. Some editors want payments upfront just to show they won’t hit you with hidden fees.
3. Unresponsive and Missing Deadlines
Communication is important in a writer/editor relationship. Professional editors take their work seriously, and they know they have an obligation to help you and meet deadlines. We know you will have questions about our work and our feedback. If your editor is not communicating with you, he is either a scammer or has poor communication skills.
Your editor should be hitting deadlines too. If we expect children to turn in their homework on time, we should expect adults and professionals to do the same. If your editor is missing deadlines because he has bitten off more than he can chew, he still needs to communicate that with you. Yes, sometimes we miss deadlines. Sometimes we’re just behind or emergencies come up. While I can’t speak on the behalf of all editors, I will always contact my clients when I’m behind. If I realize ahead of time that I’m not going to meet a deadline, I will contact you.
4. Unable to Explain Comments and Recommended Changes
When writers and editors work together, writers should be able to ask questions about the feedback. If a suggestion doesn’t make sense or if they disagree with it, they should be able to ask for a further explanation.
One advantage an editor has over critic partners and beta readers is that an editor can explain why something needs changing. A critic partner can tell you a sentence is chunky. An editor can explain WHY it is chunky. A critic partner can say you should show instead of tell. An editor can explain WHY you should show. A beta reader can tell you a scene doesn’t make sense. Editors can explain why. Get it?
We expect writers to disagree with changes we recommend, and we will talk about it. If your editor can’t explain why you should make the recommended changes, then he’s not skilled or he doesn’t care.
5. Provides Little to No (Critical) Feedback
Honestly, many writers enter the editing process with a mind set that their book is already perfect and the editor will only find minor mistakes.
Sorry, that’s not the case.
Good editors dig deep. They will be honest and point out every problem they find. You will receive A LOT of critical feedback, and yes, the editing process with an editor can be overwhelming. We always advise to take it slow. If your editor is giving you all praise (no criticism) or providing little feedback, that’s a sign that the editor is not skilled to catch all the problems in your manuscript.
These bad editors can really hurt a writer’s career. Once an editor tells a writer his manuscript is all ready to go, it is really hard to critique that writer’s work after that. The writer will believe that his work is perfect. He won’t listen to anyone with constructive criticism, and if his work was poorly edited, convincing him to listen criticism is beyond challenging.
A good editor will provide tons of feedback. If you’re not getting much feedback, it’s time to fire your editor.