f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: What’s an Editor For?

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Friday, September 01, 2006

What’s an Editor For?


“Yes, disembodied voice?”

“So, if I take your advice from yesterday and I really, really work hard on my manuscript and turn it in clean and polished and in excellent condition…well…”

“Spit it out.”

“Well, why would I need you? Sure a proofreader, but if the book is great why do I need an editor?”

On the outset in might look like a Catch-22. An editor demands a polished manuscript…but if they get one, they don’t have anything to do.

A few thoughts on why you shouldn’t plan on getting rid of me quite yet:

1. Really, couldn’t every manuscript use yet another polish?

2. An editor is able to edit to industry. A strong editor in any genre (romance, mystery, CBA, etc.) should know all the fine tuning, all the tips of the trade that are invisible to general readers but might promise broader appeal for the book.

3. An editor edits to your career. Does book 2 sound too much like book 1? Are there brand carry-overs that can help link this book with those that came before?

4. An editor stands in the gap. You on one side, readers on the other. We should be an arbiter between what you’re trying to express and what readers are hearing or what they want to hear.

In many cases, the editorial process takes the place of both things I suggested yesterday. There’s risk in that. Perhaps instead of editing to career, an editor is simply trying to patch plot holes. Or perhaps timelines and schedules mean no “agnostic” readers are approached. And your novel fails to find new readers because of a tone problem.

I don’t want to become Tony Robbins here, but it seems logical that—with an industry as unpredictable as publishing—you want to place yourself in the best position for success. And in my opinion, I think that comes from using the critique, review, and the editorial processes to their fullest potential.


And now a story.

Last year I stumbled backwards into the opportunity to ask a few questions of Jonathan Galassi, publisher of FSG…home of Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. Galassi apparently also served as the editor for the book.

My query of him went something like this: “How in the world did this book come to be?”

His answer was simple. He didn’t really know. The reason? It came in that way.


I know many writers are terrified of the editorial process. The easiest way to sail through it smoothly? Turn in an untouchable manuscript.