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April 28, 2019
By Betty Kelly Sargent
Editor Betty Kelly Sargent answers writing questions submitted by readers. This month, she takes a look at what makes a great editor.

Dear Editor:

What qualities should I look for in a freelance editor? —Eddie B.

“To write is human, to edit is divine.” That’s what Stephen King wrote when thanking his editor in On Writing. I’m not sure about divine, but I am sure that working with a talented editor who gets you and your work is just about the most important thing you can do to up your chances of finding a publisher.

Here’s a short list of what I believe great editors do or know:

1. They respond immediately to your query, even if only to let you know they are swamped and won’t be able to read your manuscript for several weeks.

2. They listen to you carefully and understand who you are, why you are writing this book, and what you want to achieve with it. They appreciate your strengths and recognize your limitations, and help you clarify your writing and find your voice. And they show you tools to help you improve your work.

3. They begin their critique by telling you what they like before moving on to suggestions for improvement.

4. They are clear about what they expect from you (their fees, preferred method of communication, deadlines) and what you can expect from them (a professional manuscript ready to be submitted to agents).

Where to you find these top editors? Search online, ask for recommendations from writer friends, and check the acknowledgements pages in books you love.

If you have a question for the editor, please email Betty Sargent at

Betty Kelly Sargent is the founder and CEO of BookWorks.