Ask the Editor: Are Editors and Writers Adversaries? Nonsense!

by Lesley-Anne Longo

Published at 2022-03-02

When it comes to learning more about how editors and authors work together, you might find that there is a lot of content out there that paints editors and authors as adversaries; two people with opposing goals, each trying to “get their way.”


If you’re an author who is trying to find an editor, or starting to work with an editor for the first time, I would like you to know that the “editor and author as adversaries” trope is very much not true! Of course there are exceptions to the rule—famed editor Maxwell Perkins and his author/friend Thomas Wolfe had quite a tempestuous relationship, and George R. R. Martin once joked, “You all know what alcoholics writers are, and it’s all because of editors. If it weren’t for editors, writers would never drink.”



The Editor: Not an Adversary, an Advocate


However, when it comes down to it, editors and authors really do have the same goals. Both players want to publish books that they are proud of, books that will sell well and be meaningful to readers. An author wants to publish the very best book they can, and their editor wants them to achieve that goal.


So, an editor is not an author’s adversary. Rather, an editor is an advocate—for the book. The editor can look at the content and tease out what elements need to change to improve the book’s structure, how to tweak the phrasing to make the text more dynamic, what bits need to be removed so the surrounding content can shine. When they share their feedback and suggestions with the author, sometimes this can be misconstrued. But why?



A Fresh Set of Eyes


The answer is: objectivity. As an author, you’ve been working on your book for months, possibly even years. You know every word, backwards and forwards, every detail, every fact or every bit of dialogue. Bringing an editor to the table means that they can see what you don’t. You’ve spent hours developing the storyline, you know the motivation and reasoning behind every action, the explanation behind every event…but all an editor gets is what’s on the page, no more, no less.


In your head, you may know full well that Event B happened because of a minor detail that occurred in Event A. An editor can tell you whether or not that information has been accurately conveyed on the page. If an editor questions a point, or becomes confused by something in your manuscript, chances are very strong that your reader will as well.



Editing as a Show of Caring


Editors know very well that receiving feedback can be difficult, and it can be painful. They know that asking you to remove a storyline or section or leave an event out in order to streamline the structure of the book might hurt. However, as the book’s advocate, they know that making that cut is the best thing for the manuscript. Nobody writes perfect prose the first time. An editor can see that there’s an amazing opportunity to achieve something with the book, if only this, that, and the other thing were changed.


In essence, if an editor returns your manuscript to you covered with comments, or provides a 12-page long report focusing on developmental editing, it means that they care. They care about your book, they care about your vision for what the book is and what it could be. A good editor will tell you what you’re doing well, and to keep it up. A great editor will tell you what you’re doing well, and provide positive feedback, but they’ll also tell you what isn’t working, and how you can improve.


Do you have to take their advice? Well, no. Of course not. You’re the author, you have the final say. However, you should always, always, always listen to and consider what your editor suggests.


Writing is often a solitary process, but editing should always be a collaborative process, so don’t dismiss your editor’s suggestions out of hand. If you take a step back and try to look at the suggestion objectively, you might just find that you agree with your editor after all.



Editors: Not So Monstrous After All


So, it’s time to dispel this myth that editors and authors are adversaries. Editors aren’t slashing and hacking at your work with wild abandon. They aren’t trying to turn your writing into their writing. They want the same thing you do: to craft a wonderful and meaningful book that people will love.


Editors don’t get into the business for the fame, they do it because they want to work behind the scenes, collaborate closely with authors, help them achieve their goals, and make their book the best it can be.


After all, George R. R. Martin did joke that editors are the reason why authors drink, but he also said something a little more poignant:


“Lastly, we have the book editors.


They are the invisible people, and that’s a dreadfully ironic situation, because they are the most important editors of all…. And the fans and readers don’t even know their names.


We should.”




For more on editor-author relationships, check out:

Providing Feedback for Authors: How Editors Can Do It Right


Editing as a Conversation with Authors




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