Why Editors are Necessary

I was flipping through fandom lore and I stumbled across an old rant by Anne Rice, which is usually a mistake and honestly this time was no different. But rather than her usual ranting about fanfic and fandom, this time it was about editors.

The rant was a since-deleted reply to Amazon reviews in 2004. If you want to read the post in full, you can find an archived version here, but the interesting bit, to me at least, was this:

I have no intention of allowing any editor ever to distort, cut, or otherwise mutilate sentences that I have edited and re-edited, and organized and polished myself. I fought a great battle to achieve a status where I did not have to put up with editors making demands on me, and I will never relinquish that status.

Anne Rice in an Amazon Review in 2004

Yikes. Honestly I don’t know where to start with this one. I will give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that she means developmental editing and not, say, proofreading.

I’ll concede that a lot of people who don’t work in the publishing business don’t know what an editor’s role is. They probably think it’s much like Anne Rice’s fantasy of being able to turn in a draft and after a light proofreading it gets sent to the printer.

This is wrong. An editor works closely with the author to develop, outline and sometimes even research the piece. This is true of fiction as well as nonfiction, though an editor’s role is often more hands-on with nonfiction, especially since editors often acquire nonfiction books at an outline (or less!) stage.

As an editor, I’ve worked on both fiction and nonfiction pieces. Most of my writers have come back overjoyed with my feedback, appreciating my thoughts and concerns. I make an effort, even when asking a lot of my authors, to never put unreasonable demands on them. I try to explain my reasoning, as well as provide guidance on how to make the book, zine or article better – how to improve the science behind it or tighten up the grammar or make a theme more prominent throughout the piece.

As a writer, I’ve worked with a lot of editors for both fiction and nonfiction. While some of them were terrible, I’ve never thought I’d be better off without an editor at all (maybe without that editor, but not one in general). I’ve developed working relationships with some, and they’ve always been willing to work with me when I’ve had concerns.

Editors are a fresh, objective pair of eyes on your work, providing you with ideas you may not have thought of or an angle you hadn’t seen before. They ask the tough questions and make sure you won’t have published something dumb and terrible when it ends up in people’s hands.

Like them, or not, editors are a necessary aspect of publishing. They’re not wall decorations, or something publishers do to make themselves feel better. They are a vital part of the process and really do work to make your book better.

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