Monday, January 17, 2011

What Do You Think: What exactly is an editor's job?

I hear a lot of writers out there poo-pooing authors whose work is deemed amateurish, lowest-common-denominator, or poorly written. 

But the way I understand it, an author only becomes an author when a whole mess of professionals believe in their talent and their story - and give advice, guidance, maybe even directives.  But the author is the writer, after all. 

So, who is at fault when a debut author puts out a book that is noticably lacking in technique?

Where does a debut author's responsibility begin and end?

If an author puts out a book that's panned by critics for technical incompetence, but is wildly successful with readers, who is right? Did the Publisher know their audience? Or did the editor let the side down?

How far does an editor's responsibility extend?


If you've been published traditionally (to me that means a publisher got you to sign a piece of paper saying they'd pay you money for your book, then edited it and released it / will release it), I'd love to hear your two cents.  Please feel free to comment or email me on (I'll happily post your answer with links to your books, blogs, etc).

If you haven't been published traditionally, what are your expectations?  And what do you base them on?


  1. Aimee, the writer is the name on the book, so ultimately they take the credit for the good and the blame for the bad. In many cases that means a plot point the editor came up with wins kudos for the writer. And sometimes a fix the editor demanded ends up being a mistake, is in fact one thing that critics end up hating. Still your fault as the writer. Finally you can have a situation where the author makes a mistake (referring to the wrong ocean, say, or the wrong model weapon) and no one catchesit. Well, duh, that's definitely on the writer.

    In all of these, the whole team works to do the best they can, but the writer takes responsibility. I'm actually thrilled by this. I mean, what kind of whiny jackass would say, "yeah, I wrote the wrong ocean name, but my editor was totally supposed to catch those kinds of things."

    I love this industry.

  2. Hi Aimee,

    I've just dropped by to let you know that I've nominated you for the Stylish blogger award.
    Continue doing the good work and pick your award up from:

  3. The editor's job, imo, is to help the author create the best book possible. Pretty simple, at least on that basic level. Copyeditors go a long way in that regard too. Editor skill levels vary though, and then there's the whole matter of subjectivity, which can account for one critic loving a book while another hates it. It's certainly a team effort, and in the end, all you can count on and expect is that everyone on the team puts in as much time and effort as they can to make the story as good as they know how. On the other hand, it behooves the author to be as competent in editing as possible, which is no small task. Being a good editor is very different skill set compared to creating the story and putting it down on the page.

  4. Hi Aimee-

    This is a great question... and a very interesting post. (And, if you want to ask me more questions, please email me at I'm happy to answer them although I'm not sure how much I can help!)

    I'm a debut author (my book comes out next month) and I honestly have very little writing experience. I didn't go to school for writing or journalism and my work has always been technical or web writing. When I got my book deal (from Guideposts), it was actually my agent who helped me the most. She told me what the business wanted, what they were looking for, how to shape my writing which helped me to actually write my manuscript in a way that my publisher would want it. Once I turned my manuscript into my editor, she became my go-to person for editorial questions. To be honest, she didn't change my book much on a small details level-- she left a lot of the writing in tact but she did make some pretty significant changes to the order as well as suggested some pretty significant additions.

    So, to answer your question, I think the editors job is to shape the authors writing for the market, but it's the authors job to make sure the writing is good. After all, an editor can only do so much without entirely rewriting the book (in which case, they should be the author, not the author). I hope that makes sense!

    Another job my editor has taken on (not sure if this is right) is as my liason to the publishing company. Whenever I have a question (about marketing, sales, release dates, blogging, etc.) she has been the one to answer it. She knows my book, knows the market and knows the publisher so she's kinda turned into my go-to gal for EVERYTHING.

    Hope this answers the question!