The Role of the Editor
By Award-Winning Editor & Author Kim Childress
As both an author and an editor, I have a unique perspective on the process of creating a book, from its initial inkling of an idea to the final, finished, fresh-off-the-press product.
As a writer, I know each word is a small part of the author, a labor of love, a struggle to find the exact description, a perfect comeback in dialog, a beautiful metaphor where before there was simple “telling.”
As an editor, I have learned that it is far easier to recognize problems in someone else’s work than in my own. (Although I’ve improved at recognizing my personal flaws.) Sometimes I am able to edit an author’s words, the words that flowed from the creativity of the author’s experience and mind, and then rework those words into a sentence that flows perfectly—expressing the original intent behind the author’s idea.
As a writer, I still experience pangs of disappointment whenever realizing my own words needed editing, but I recognize how my editors’ suggestions make my writing stronger. I welcome suggestions and give editorial license to tweak, knowing that however the words may change, they wouldn’t exist if I had not first penned them.
As an editor, I find great joy in helping authors make their books the absolute best they can be. I realize some authors prefer making changes themselves based on my suggestions. Some will allow me to make changes, as long as they get to approve. Others, well, others don’t take kindly to changes of any kind.
Perhaps the most important job requirements of a good editor are organization and prioritization. However, I believe the ultimate role of the editor is to build the author-editor relationship. The author and editor are meant to act as teammates, working together to transform a book and bring forth an author’s dream-baby. A thriving author and editor relationship is one of mutual respect, understanding, and hopefully friendship. With a good working relationship, ideally, the editor is able to help improve the author’s craft while fostering the author’s career.
However, I have been astounded at times when authors fight with their editors. Obviously this makes for a difficult process. Especially if, for example, you are contracted for a trilogy, then you’re going to be working with that editor for a number of years. So how can author’s help foster this ever-important relationship?
For starters, it helps for authors to learn as much as possible about the editorial process.
A Brief Glimpse Into an Editors' World
For every book, there are approximately 600-800 tasks an editor must complete on a production schedule, which is carefully devised to give the book time to go through every stage—from editorial, to design and composition, to final format proof—all before the file to vendor date (FTV, the date the book is due to the printer). Some books have more tasks, as in a four-color, middle-grade nonfiction. Some books require fewer tasks, as in a hardcover to softcover conversion. Each task has assigned deadlines which are updated in weekly production meetings. When a manuscript is late on a task, the editor must make accounting, and adjustments need to be made for everyone in the creative process (such as those waiting for a firm page count to complete the cover, or marketers waiting for galleys for early publicity). When a schedule goes off track, the manager must rework the dates for everyone involved, with all eyes on the ever-looming FTV date.
Imagine this process times sixty-four, which is the number of titles I handled over my last year of editing. Imagine also being required on a weekly basis to present new titles, which requires research on comparable titles, forms, and power points, all designed to convince our pub board that they must publish said book. In a nutshell, editors are insanely busy.
So how can writers help?
Keep an open mind. Be willing to revise and accept changes.
Listen to your editor. Acknowledge your editor’s expertise in the field. Editors are required to research and know the current publishing industry, especially within their genres. For example, in addition to knowing what books are in the market and who’s publishing what, I must recognize appropriate middle-grade vocabulary, what will work with librarians and reviewers, and keywords for search engines.
Be timely. A late manuscript affects more than just the author and editor. The entire composition team has to adjust their schedules, which affects other books and other authors.The entire composition team has to adjust their schedules, which affects other books and other authors.
Express your concerns—respectfully. Share when you disagree. This is your book. But in the process of sharing, you may brainstorm together to tweak an awkward sentence into one that flows and works for both of you.
Respect your editor and his or her opinions. Maybe you’ve been blessed to have written some best-sellers, as is every writer’s dream. However, this does not give license for rudeness, argumentativeness, or the assumption that you are your editor’s most important author. Don’t waste precious time squabbling over a comma.
Remember, fame is fleeting, and the next best-seller is always around the corner. Your book is ultimately your book. But bear in mind that your editor has to be your champion before the sales board, and it’s hard to be convincing when the memory of the last comma squabble still replays in your editor’s ears. Work on your differences. Agree to disagree, and no matter what the outcome, always remember that your editor wants what is best for you and your book.
Kim Childress is an award-winning editor and author of hundres of books, articles, and short stories for children and the parents in their lives. Author of Finding Your Future in Art, when not reading or writing, she’s probably editing, reading crafting or tending to her personal focus group of four children, ages 18-26. To learn more, go to www.ChildressInk.com.