I’ve narrowed down the pool–it’s pretty shallow at this point, which is the way it should be. Now, beyond checking out sales rank, I’m into the next stage–checking out editors.
Find a bunch of recent books by a publisher under consideration–recent because editors move around a lot and you want to get an idea of what the current editorial staff is like. It’s best if you can find books that are in your genre. If you write contemporary romance, then you want to look at the contemporary romance editors; scifi, you look at scifi editors.
Then, look them up on Amazon.
Within a couple of pages, you should be able to tell if the editor is going to be able to catch things that you don’t notice when self-editing. Or you may be aghast at the quality of the work and wonder how it got out there. Or, if you’re lucky, you may end up making some purchases.
Things I look for, that I notice in other people’s work but don’t always catch in my own, are things like prepositional phrases, or too-quick changes of motivation on the part of a character. I look for a lot of telling, which isn’t something I do frequently, but does occasionally get past me. I look for clarity and ease of reading, because these are basic editorial skills. I look at the line editing, because a good publisher will have more than one editor work on your story.
You’ll likely look for other things, because every writer has their own Achilles’ heel.
If enough books get past this test, I’ll buy a few that seem closely related to my own. If I can finish them with few or no reservations, then I’ll check out the page that lists the editor. If there’s no editor listed (and some pubs don’t list editors), that moves the pub a notch down in my ranking. I will have to look at a much wider range of books from them, because that implies a certain turnover of editors, which means that I might have just caught a few good books, and that editor might now be gone. If I can’t be sure that an editor I like is still with the company, then I need to know that the standard is high across the board, which is something one of the pubs I was considering failed recently.
Once I have a list of editors that I think would mesh well with me, my hang-ups, and my weaknesses, I’ll look them up online, see what they like, what they’ve edited, what they’re looking for. I’ll check out their social media, because I’ve been turned off one seemingly capable editor after a Twitter episode that revealed a pretty unpleasant and unrealistic side to her personality. Which then made me realize this is someone I would probably avoid if we lived in the same city–no matter how good an editor she was. (The lesson here, boys and girls, is be careful on social media.) You spend too much time with your editor to have to worry if they’re suddenly going to go off on you about something. (This goes beyond normal kvetching on the internet–everyone has to vent. And some people need to be vented about. 🙂 But you know the saying: The best index to a person’s character is (a) how he treats people who can’t do him any good, and (b) how he treats people who can’t fight back.)
Now, I know I may not have a choice in who my editor is, but the more you know, the less you’re surprised. And the likelihood is that an editor who has previously edited books like yours and is still looking for more will pick yours up out of the slushpile. It’s what happened to me at Loose Id, essentially, and I’m very happy with The Editor in Question. And I knew to send to Loose Id because I’d done my homework, right up to and including speaking with authors at the pub and asking how they liked dealing with them.
Doing the research may not guarantee me the kind of editor I want, but it sure does improve the odds of putting the manuscript where the right editor can stumble over it.