Friday, May 16, 2014

Editor Bashing

I have been witnessing lately, in a few discussion forums, some fairly bitter attacks on editors. Many writers have clearly had what they perceive to be bad experiences with editors. Obviously I cannot comment on the quality of those editors’ work. No doubt there are many editors out there who don’t do very good work, as is true in any profession.

I have read many books by self-published authors who thank the editor in their acknowledgements; but I can see no evidence that their work has been seriously or competently edited. Is this because the editor did a poor job? Or is it because the author did not accept the editor’s advice? It’s impossible to say. I have also been approached to edit books which the author has already paid another editor to edit. They are not happy with the result. Perhaps the editor did a poor job. Or perhaps the author simply didn’t like what the editor had to say. Again, who knows?

Sometimes authors do not like what editors suggest, or what they try to do to their work. Is the editor wrong, or is the author too emotionally involved in the work to accept any changes or criticisms? My first novel, Maybe they’ll remember me, which I self-published more than two years ago, has recently been accepted for publication with a small, independent publishing house. They will want to edit it, I’m sure. Because I wrote and published that book more than two years ago, I have no illusions about its quality. I think I am a better writer now than I was then, and I have no doubt that the book can be improved. Perhaps it takes this long, and several subsequently completed novels, to become sufficiently detached from my own work. On the other hand, if my most recent novel is accepted by a publisher, I accept it will need to be edited. I have no doubt there are elements that can be improved, and which I have overlooked. That’s not to say, of course, that I will automatically agree with everything the editor says. No one should!

The only reason I don’t have my own novels professionally edited (and as both an editor and a writer I know that I should) is that I can’t afford it. That is one of the great things about being published in the traditional way: I don’t have to pay for editing!

I know what it means as a struggling author to have to pay for cover design, editing, book promotion. With no guarantee of any financial return on my investment. I try to offer people an affordable editing service; but, even so, I know that some writers cannot afford it. I also realise that I cannot always make the author happy, particularly in the manuscript assessment/structural editing phase of the process. I cannot force people to accept my advice. And not even the very best editor can turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse.


  1. Well said Philip and an important perspective for authors, editors and any individual or professional who writes documents for publication or presentation purposes.
    As a professional editor our very mandate is providing concise, error-free copy editing services while at the same time providing recommended revisions to the client’s document copy that will not only ensure a polished, well-constructed document to a professional standard but also to help bring the client’s written words to a high quality level that is informative and compelling to the recipient audience.
    Authors need to be aware and assured that an editor’s suggested edits or revisions are derived from qualified analysis (hopefully) to ensure that critical elements, centric to the targeted audience, are incorporated into the written project document or manuscript and conveyed in a manner that is concise in terms of intent, orientation and suitability to that audience while maintaining the author’s style and personality brand uncompromised…enhanced in fact.
    The author and editor should never share an adversarial relationship, rather, their purpose and objectives should be mutual and fully beneficial. The author is the client and as such is afforded the respect and acknowledgement of their written project while at the same time sharing a ‘teamwork’ type approach to developing a quality document of the highest possible standards.
    The editor’s recommendations are not carved in stone and by no means a personal attack on the author’s writing skill set. After all, what was the purpose of engagement of the editor in the first place? I find communication from the onset goes a long way to solidifying an editor’s relationship with the author. I make sure that from the point of first contact I am fully apprised of the author’s objectives in my engagement and, equally important, that the author understands my purpose and processes on their behalf to avoid any sense of ambiguity or confusion on the client’s part. We both share the same objective through to the conclusion of the editing services.
    From a purely business perspective I truly believe that transparency right up front and through the editing process is critical to a streamlined, comfortable relationship between the author and editor. There are times when a writer may have articulated their ideas fully however the delivery of their message needs to meet the highest of standards in order to connect and engage an audience. In terms of the nature of the written project, especially where continued audience engagement, following or purchase is the ultimate objective, how that document is conveyed is critical. Sustainability of future engagement of an author’s reading audience is paramount.
    The editor is indeed friend and not foe!

  2. An editor I used in the past missed some punctuation mistakes, and that was an editor that was recommended to me by someone.

    1. Hi Katerina. I've no doubt that that happens. But really that is just proofreading rather than editing, and no one should ever claim that a manuscript is 100% error free, even after many passes of proofreading.