Notice the word "good" in the previous paragraph...a good editor is worth more than rubies. A bad editor...well, let's just talk about good ones.
For most writers, these days, his/her "editor" is both the "acquisitions editor" (the person who said "We have to buy this book") and the main contact point a writer has at a publishing house. That editor communicates with the writer and the writer's agent, and also communicates within the publishing house with copyeditors, Production, Marketing, etc. The fate of a book rests in the editor's hands, in other words, including all those bits that writers have zero control over.
But sometimes Stuff Happens. The editor who bought the book is fired, or decides to leave that publishing house, or gets sick or dies. Another editor is then handed that book (finished or not) and the writer has a new, untried editor to deal with. You don't even know if the editor said "Oh, goody!" when handed that assignment or "Why me? Why can't I have a *good* writer?"
Meeting (in person, in email, or over the phone) one's editor is always a scary/tricky period. Writers usually communicate best in writing...and some of us communicate a lot better in fiction than in nonfiction business writing. I used to have a phone phobia to the point of having to write down the first two or three sentences I would say when calling someone I didn't know. Talking to a real live NYC editor, publisher, or agent was terrifying, especially if they called *me* and I didn't have my sentences in front of me. I don't have that problem anymore (I don't think!) but I still find first meetings stressful. I want to come across as professional, pleasant to deal with, but not a pushover. Businesslike is not my native state of mind, but I really don't want the editor to realize right away how tongue-tangled I can be (and boy, can I be, esp. on the phone...the brain and the mouth do not run neatly in tandem...!)
I imagine that editors also approach that first meeting with some trepidation, depending on their attitudes towards writers in general. The control freaks (there are a few) want to be sure their new acquisition understands who's in charge...the more laid back just want a good working relationship with someone whose personality they know nothing about (sometimes) or too much about (other times.) As the writer's career becomes a little more solid (it's never rock solid!) editors may see the writer as a reliable workhorse, and they want that workhorse to work as well for them as for the previous editors. I think they think this way. I have no idea, really.
I'm in the position of getting a new editor, after three months without one, during which time I finished and turned in a book. This makes the third editor for a five book series...and this is the last book on the contract, so not only does this editor have to deal with the last book in the series, it's also the last book on the contract...which means this editor will be involved in contract negotiations. It's a tough situation for me and for the editor. A few weeks ago, I heard via the top editor and my agent who was assigned to be my editor for this book, someone new to the company, just hired away from another.
What can the writer do? Well, there's always research. Find out who had this editor before and be nosy. I did this discreetly, on a closed list. Heard only good things. Whew--sigh of relief. A very good editor and not hard to get along with. She was busily reading two previous books in the series, to get up to speed on the new one. That was excellent, very encouraging.
Yesterday, I had email from her. I love email for situations like this. You can rewrite your responses until you are happy with the effect and be prepared for a closer contact. I emailed back immediately (see, I'm professional!) and told her I had agent-suggestions in hand. She emailed back asking to see them so she could fold them in with hers, when she was through reading the new book. I emailed those (it was after business hours in NYC by then) and we'd already set up a 10 am phone call.
She called today on the dot of, and we had a very productive (on my side at least) chat. She reminds me of another editor I worked very well with, at least on the phone. I 'fessed up to two problems (I can't outline well, and last summer's copyeditor disaster) and she didn't have fits. This is good. She seems organized, businesslike, much more than I am (which is what an editor needs) and we discussed scheduling (this book will come out in February...time for revisions she wants will be tight, as Production wants it by August 15, but doable, even though I'm leaving for a convention in less than two weeks. Thanks to the magic of the internet I can work on revisions and ship them to her before, during, and between conventions. A laptop and some thumb drives (for multiple backups) and I'm good to go.
We still have to find out if her work style and mine mesh well...I do best when let alone for the most part, and some editors are not happy with that...but I have high hopes for this partnership. (I start that way with all of them...it helps.) My former editors, with very few exceptions, made my books better by calling attention to problems, even if I didn't always fix the problem the way they suggested. Two of them were stellar--the books would not have been 2/3 that good without them. The others were helpful, but not quite at the same level.
Writers need editors...GOOD editors. In subsequent posts, I'll talk about what I think makes a good editor.