I'll use the feminine for this, because my editor is a woman. But please substitute if yours is a guy. I know some great guy editors.
How do you know if your editor is fabulous? Answer these questions.
1. Is she supportive when things aren't going well?
My editor has always been unfailingly patient during my rough times. I have a big family; I have a lot of rough times (deaths, illnesses, weddings, angst).
She's also patient during my rough writing, first drafts, awkward prose and obvious mistakes.
2. Are her edits heavy handed? Or does she leave room for your own voice in your own writing?
When my first book copies arrived, back in 2007, I was astounded to see how many of the copy-edits that I had suggested were ultimately adopted. My editor acted surprised at my surprise; "of course we'd try to accommodate every request; you're the author!" whereas I'd been led to believe, by other writers, that your vision for your book is abandoned once you sign with a publisher.
I'm learning from her editing -- it's making me a better writer (thank goodness).
3. Does she respond to your emails? And is she warm in her notes to you?
My editor doesn't always write back as fast as I'd like her to. She's the publisher, besides being an editor. She works with very famous authors. I can't fault her for not coddling me and my author angst 24/7 (author angst is legendary; my insecurities are legion).
But she does always sign her notes affectionately and she does always respond quickly on important matters. I feel if we weren't working together, she'd be a fascinating friend who I'd love to get to know better.
4. Does she edit other work besides yours? Are those books critically acclaimed?
Every publisher has a different sort of feel. And not all books are good for all people. The list at one house might not appeal to a particular reader, even if the books are critically acclaimed and the reader is brilliant. We all have different tastes -- and thank goodness for that, because as an artist I can't imagine anything more drab than a world where everyone agreed on everything all the time.
I am not the biggest fan of each of my publisher's books, but I'm a big fan of a lot of them. Ellie McDoodle is not the top book in the catalog (though I hope it gets near). Like not wanting to own the best house on the block, I don't think I want to create the best books in my publisher's catalog; I want something to aspire to, a reason to always try to do better.
My publisher puts out enough great works every season that I am proud to be part of their list.
5. Do you get paid on time? Royalty statements arrive unprompted?
I don't know. My agent takes care of this. I do know there have been a couple times when we asked my editor to intercede and she did. My family hit tough times last month, and my editor helped me get paid faster than normal. It was a kindness, something I will never forget.
6. Does she buy every book you write?
Mine doesn't -- and if she did she probably would not be a good editor. Ha!
I've pitched a couple books that were stinkers (you know, in a meeting when I should have bitten my tongue instead). My agent has pitched a few that I still believe in, that my editor didn't. Pitched a few that needed work. She bought 4 books from me. I'm satisfied with that track record (though of course I am trying harder to only offer books that are irresistible).
7. Does she work hard at her job?
Mine works maybe too hard. I get emails from her in the wee hours of the morning, on weekends, over holidays. I like having an editor who works as hard as I do.
8. Is she good with words?
My editor weighs her suggestions, balances observations, measures responses, and is careful about what is said and what's left unsaid. More than once I've babbled to her, watched her face for clues, saw the smile, realized belatedly I wasn't saying anything new, quieted down, and listened... and benefited from her wisdom.
9. Does she spend a lot of time blogging and building up warm, fuzzy feelings in the writer community?
My editor doesn't, and honestly I am glad for that. Her priority isn't her own name, it's writing. If she weren't publisher she'd probably have time for lots of other pursuits. I'm okay with how she handles what's important to me.
10. Is your editor human?
Well, yeah, mine is. She's endured some pain and I am sure she makes mistakes, but she isn't a faceless, nameless company pawn. I can't speak to how she is elsewhere, but she's sensitive, thoughtful, and fair in all her dealings with me.
Her name is Melanie Cecka. She works for Bloomsbury. They've taken some knocks for some of their decisions, and I have opinions on the decisions and the knocks, but I respect her and her staff. They're good, dear people and I am lucky to work with them.
I drew this in my sketchbook while walking out the door after meeting with my editor and her staff in NYC, Feb 2006, for the first time:
I am SO in love with my job of being an author and illustrator of books for kids.
My editor would find a lot to edit in this note, but I'm going to post it anyway. I have other writing to get to, specifically a girl who likes to read and a boy who likes to run.