Good editors are priceless. I’ve worked with several wonderful folks, including the lovely lady who is editing most of my Netwalk Sequence work, and they all have similar characteristics.
First, they quickly grasp the vision you may not always be able to consistently articulate in your work. I don’t care how good a writer you are, you always need editing. What I have noticed in the difference between dealing with a beta reader/critique group and an editor is that a beta/crit group often wants to rewrite your work in their words, or else says “There’s a problem but I don’t know how to revise it.” A good editor understands your intent, identifies when what you’ve written is inconsistent with the overall thrust of the work, and picks up when you’ve dropped the ball on what you’re trying to say. Additionally, a good editor can make appropriate revision suggestions without taking over your voice. It’s a fine art.
(that’s one reason why I’m reluctant to rejoin a critique group. Another is that it took me years to get over the undue influence one group I participated in had over my work and writing voice. I literally could not write fiction for quite a while without hearing their voices and arguing with them as I wrote, and ended up paralyzed as a result. Not good. I’ve had good betas, but they aren’t the same as an editor with an editor’s vision)
Secondly, especially with a short story collection or magazine, the good editor looks for work that is consistent with the style of the other writers in the anthology or magazine. Good stories benefit from the company of like stories. Story placement in an anthology or magazine is an art, and I have liked my placement in every magazine or anthology I’ve been in to date.
Thirdly, it’s not about their ego, except as a presentation of the overall work or imprint. They aren’t seeking to tear the writer down but build the writer up so that the published work is the writer’s best effort. They want to build the writer up. Critique groups often fall into the trap of one-upmanship and it’s not pretty when that happens. One vibe I’ve gotten from some of the rejections of the ilk I critiqued in my rejection slip post a few weeks back is that in some form, ego slipped in the door. There are very positive rejection critiques out there, but they share the characteristics of the good editor request for revision in that it’s not an issue of ego/one-upmanship.
(Another factor is that many newer editors are often uncomfortable with just saying “This doesn’t work for me” but have to find something–anything–to justify the rejection. Straining like this ends up with cockeyed rejections of the sort I ranted about. A good editor is secure in his or her own vision and can say “hey, this missed the mark. It doesn’t work for me.” They don’t need to give a specific reason. Editors, trust yourself. If you don’t think it works for your imprint/publication, but you can’t articulate why, don’t worry about giving a reason. Don’t force it. Forcing it comes off poorly. You’re the editor of the anthology/magazine/imprint. It’s your overall vision, and the writer’s work is just a piece of your overall work.)
Good editors are like gold and are meant to be prized. Enjoy the opportunities to work with them.