The Editor’s Job

Authors are like children. They’re whiny, they’re impatient, they’re rude, and they’re dense, but most importantly (and most like children), they’re ambitious. Ambition does not always yield positive results. But that’s entirely dependent upon the operator – much like how most computer problems can be traced back to the IT techs’ favorite error, the old I-D-Ten-T. I-D-10-T. Get it?

Published authors throughout history, especially those who attempt work with editors or co-authors, have time and again proven themselves to be some of the most stubborn, bull-headed, idiotic, irritating people on earth. But they have also proven themselves to be some of the most determined. And for that, puffed-up or annoying (or ignorant) though they may be, we must commend them all. For nothing has ever been accomplished in the history of the world without determination.

That said, from a professional editor’s point of view, authors really do create more headaches than necessary. I didn’t know what a headache was until I became an editor. Most of the problems an editor has with an author can be undeniably traced back to the fact that the author does not understand the editor’s role nor his own role in the editing and revision processes. If more authors understood the intended and ideal dynamic of the author-editor relationship, more editors would make lifelong careers out of their positions, and fewer authors would stress unnecessarily over their “babies.”

The editor’s job is objectivity.
Yes, I understand that you spent twenty years slaving over your book. But it’s not going to take me nearly that long to tell you what’s wrong with it. Yes, I understand that your great-great-grandmother thinks it’s comparable to Shakespeare. But your great-great-grandmother also thinks that Abe Lincoln is still president. You’re not Shakespeare, and I’m not going to treat you like you are. You’re also not J.K. Rowling. Or Stephen King. Or Mary Higgins Clark. Or John Grisham. Yes, I understand that all 5,823 minute details of your actions day in and day out are interesting to you. But they won’t be interesting to anyone else, especially readers who have never met you. Yes, I understand that you’ve watched a lot of crime shows and therefore know all there is to know about detective work and lingo. But guess what – I’ve seen all those crime shows too, and I can tell that you ripped off the seventy-eighth episode of CSI in your book, and your readers will be able to tell too. Try again. “Try again.” That’s the essence of the relationship between the editor and the author. The editor points out the places in the book where the author needs to try again.

The editor’s job is not to format the manuscript for you.
It is not my job to fix your spacing and indents. It’s also not my job to write a proper bibliography page for you. If you don’t know what you’re doing, do some research! Yes, I know how to create a bibliography page because I had to know how in order to get the college degree I wanted to get. That doesn’t mean it’s my job to fix yours for you. It’s also not my job to check your facts. If you write a book that talks about Hitler’s African ancestry or posits that the United States was founded in 1301, I might notice these mistakes, or I might not. It’s not my job to be a history buff, nor is it my job to Google all your facts. That’s your job, and your name is going on the cover, so if your facts are wrong, readers are going to blame you, not your editor.

The editor’s job is certainly technical.
It is absolutely my job to point out your grammatical and other technical errors. If a word is spelled wrong, I get paid to notice (and to fix it). If your commas are misplaced, I’m supposed to re-place them. If your apostrophes are backwards, I’m supposed to face them forward. All of that is my job. If I miss one thing in an entire book that you happen to find after I’ve finished my edit? You should be thanking me that I found all the other errors and left only that one. I’m human too, remember.

The editor’s job is not to be your friend.
Don’t send me a friend request on Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter, or any other social networking site. I have a personal life aside from my professional life, and if you’ve done a Google search for my name, you’re going to find my personal social networking profiles, which you have no business looking at if they are not open and public to everyone. Our relationship is and will remain strictly professional. Garner your fans from your readership and friends and family. (There are a few exceptions to this rule, but in general, do not friend-request your editor. The basic rule you should follow is – if you like your editor and he or she friend-requests you on a social networking site, then go ahead and accept. But do not initiate the request.)

The editor’s job is to be timely, professional, and respectful of the author’s baby.
But in return, the author should be willing to learn, cooperative, and receptive to the editor’s suggestions and expertise. The editor is not giving you a personal opinion. The editor is providing you with the reaction the “average” reader (not your friends and family) will have upon reading your book. Plus, your editor gets paid to do his job and to do it well. So trust him. He’ll almost always be right.

The editor’s job is not to design your book’s cover or to market your book for you.
No matter what type of publishing service you are using – one that provides cover design service or one that does not, or one that provides marketing services or one that does not – your editor is not the expert in those fields. Let the editor edit the book. Let the designer design it. And let the marketing rep market it. Authors’ stress levels would be so much lower if they just let each person do the job he or she is paid to do.

Editors become editors because they love to read.
Editors become editors because they loved discussing literature in their college classes.
Editors become editors because they are detail oriented and good at catching “the small stuff.”

Editors quit their jobs when authors drive them crazy.

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