I offer one-on-one consulting to other writers about researching, drafting, revising, submitting, promoting, and visiting schools to make presentations about their own books — a pretty wide array of editorial services.
Knowing he had worked with an editor I admired — Willie Morris — and being an editor myself, I asked King what made a good editor.
And his answer, I thought, was a satisfying one. I’m paraphrasing a bit, but basically, he said that a good editor does three things:
1) Changes only what they have to,
2) strokes the writer’s ego when they think the writer needs it, and
3) tells the writer the truth when they think the writer can take it.
But with added years of experience as both an editor and, more recently, as an author, I’ve got a fourth item for that list:
4) asks questions.
Throughout the editing process, I believe in asking the writer questions about the choices they have faced or made (and paying attention to their answers!) so that I understand where the writer is coming from.
I don’t believe that a good editor heavy-handedly prescribes solutions to a problem that the writer doesn’t even agree exists.
Above all, an editor should help a writer do the best job that that particular writer can do of telling their story in their own way.