What’s an Editor?

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What’s the one thing you would do even if you weren’t getting paid to? Or what’s the one activity you can see yourself doing forever? For me, it’s editing manuscripts. Over the years, I’ve been lucky that authors and publishers have trusted me with their work; and luckier that I found something that I really like doing. It was a journey finding something I was passionate about and I even made a few wrong turns but, here I am.

For this post, I’d like to define what an “editor” is because there are still misconceptions out there. Also, authors aren’t keeping their editors accountable or are experiencing friction with their editor when their editor is just doing their job. There are also writers out there who, because of a really negative experience with an editor, now poo-poo all over the entire editor-author relationship.

To be honest, a real editor is much more than someone who “red-marks” your work; someone more than a “grammar nazi.” Beyond making sure that your manuscript is as perfect as possible, an editor serves as an author’s beta reader, confidant, and coach.

An editor is a beta reader. As a beta reader, an editor uses their expertise to review manuscripts well-before publishing or approaching a publishing house or agent happens. This can be invaluable because often times, acquisitions editors either flip through manuscripts or just read specific chapters. With enough errors, an acquisitions editor and agent will lose faith in an author’s ability to write and will likely toss a manuscript aside for another one that is better prepared for publishing.

An editor is a confidant. You can share your crazy ideas and the earliest, rawest versions of your work. A good editor listens as much as they read and is open to collaboration. If an author doesn’t feel like they can openly share their ideas with their editor, it might be time for that author to reconsider the relationship. If an editor is consistently dismissed by an author or an author seems to only want their own ideas reflected back at them, it’s time for that editor to jump ship. It’s extremely important for an author-editor relationship to be cohesive because if it isn’t, it’s likely that the editor won’t want to be credited in the book for their work because they don’t feel that it reflects their true abilities as an editor. A big reason to get an editor is to show readers professionalism, that the author took the time to invest in their work by hiring an editor, it’s polished, and worth the reader’s time. Worse, a volatile author-editor relationship means that an author is left with a manuscript that is so-so because it’s difficult to extract the best version of a manuscript when there is an air of defensiveness versus a relationship of collaboration where both editor and author are pouring their best and years of experience into the body of work.

An editor is a coach. When it comes to the editing process, an author has all right to be upset when their editor criticizes, corrects, and challenges what they’ve written but remember, at the end of the day, you can take the advice and grow from it or toss it out. An author is represented by the bodies of work they write. An author’s work is their product and that product should be good enough to pay the bills, right? An editor can’t be afraid to be honest with an author and if they are, it might be time to either check the editor’s motives (do they really care about your work?) or find a new editor. A good editor not only identifies weaknesses in your writing, a good editor reveals your strengths, too.

I hope this helps someone.

-E

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