Thursday, 21 August 2008

What Editors Do

Editors are responsible for finding and producing books which will make a good profit for the publishing houses they work for.

Part of this job involves working with writers to polish and refine their texts in order to make them as perfect as possible.

It is not an editor’s job to rewrite an entire text in order to make it readable. Making things readable is the writer’s job.

So when people comment that they have an excellent story idea, and that’s the hardest part done as they’re going to leave all that dull stuff like writing to their editor, it makes me want to chew my own arm off.


Anonymous said...

I agree that there is no excuse for presenting a text which is badly written - poor spelling, bad grammar etc. However, it sometimes beggars belief the books which editors think will make money for their publishing house. Doesn't the number of titles which fail to earn out their advances (or worse, have to get on the Richard and Judy list to boost their sales) show that there is a huge gulf between the 'expertise' of editors and the tastes of the book buying public?

Tim Jones said...

In New Zealand, acquiring books is the publisher's job; the editors do the polishing. A writer who is paired with a good editor is blessed indeed, as I have commented on at

Jane Smith said...

Gulliver, books don't have to earn out to make a profit. I discussed that in another, older post which you'll find here:

(Sorry, I can't remember the code that I need to make that into a live, clickable link.)

I don't think that the huge gulf you refer to exists. Editors who commision too many loss-making books don't keep their jobs for long: despite there being a lot of books out there which are criticised, most make money for their publishers. Someone must be buying them, even if it's not you!

By the way, it's pretty difficult to get onto Richard & Judy: tens of thousands of books compete for that opportunity. It's no poor option. I'd crawl over broken glass for that particular experience.

Jane Smith said...

Tim, at every publishing house that I've worked (in the UK and the USA) books have been commissioned by the publisher and/or by commissioning/acquiring editors, depending on the publishing house concerned.

I wonder if this is an issue of size, though, rather than location?

In the really big conglomerates the publisher wouldn't have the time to vet every single acquisition, whereas in the smaller, independent presses there might not be anyone else with the authority to sign anything up.

Alternatively, it could be that your books are taken more seriously than the ones I've been involved with, hence the involvement of the Ultimate Authority. In which case I bow down before your natural superiority!