E is for Editor

by Steve Laube

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Your editor can be your best friend in the industry (besides your agent, of course). Or your editor can be your worst enemy.

Bad Side First

An editor who doesn’t reply to your email inquiries or return your phone calls is either ignoring you on purpose or is so busy with other pressing matters they can’t get to yours. If you have this problem make sure you didn’t create it in the first place by incessantly poking your editor with minor questions. It is likely many of your questions can be answered by your agent, unless they are related to the specific editing of your manuscript.

An editor who does not understand what you are trying to do with your manuscript and rewrites your work to their own tastes is not a good thing and should be resisted. But be careful, it is rare that the editor is being nefarious and intentionally mean to you. Their job is to improve your manuscript, they may have merely misread the content. If you feel their hand is too heavy then hold firm and gently push back. This is appropriate and not confrontational.

An editor with whom you simply don’t get along can undermine some of the in-house discussions. When I was an editor I talked to the marketing director who would always ask, “Do we have a future with this author?” Why? Because she had extra money designated to spend on authors we were building and that money would help the next book from that author. If my answer to her question was “no” then we moved on to the next author in the lineup. That “no” would come for any number of reasons (sales, poor writing, etc.).

The Good Side

Did the above paragraphs scare you a little? That was intentional. Understand that the “Bad Side” is rare. They make for great campfire horror stories. They do happen but it is not the norm.

Instead a good editor is your champion. They acquired your book, defended it against all odds in-house and are there as your partner to make your book a treasure. Often these editorial relationships last for a long time. I remember reading about a major bestselling author (someone like Stephen King or John Grisham – I don’t remember who) had switched to a new publishing house. It was huge news and the journalist was wondering “why the switch?” It later came out that the author’s editor had been hired by the new publisher and the author followed. I’ve known authors and editors who have become best friends, staying at each other’s homes, and even vacationing with each other’s families.

At one point in my editorial days an author liked working with me so much he tried to get a “key man” clause written into the contract. This would mean that if I left the company he could opt out of the contract! My boss wouldn’t go for it saying with a laugh, “Steve? This clause would give you more job security than I have!”

Having a go-to person for all thing editorial is one of the great benefits of having a great editor on your side. How does this differ from your agent? The easiest answer is to say that if you have a great relationship with your editor (note the “if”) then that person is for all things creative related to your book. The agent then becomes all things business related to your book. That is a simplistic dividing line but you get the idea.

8 Responses to E is for Editor

  1. Avatar
    Andrea Cox June 24, 2013 at 6:26 am #

    Hi Steve! Thanks for another informative post. One question, though. As an agent, would you recommend an editor to your clients, or do they find one on their own?


  2. Avatar
    Steve Myers June 24, 2013 at 7:22 am #

    Steve… thank you for the insights into editors and agents. Post the 2012 ACFW Conference I invested in securing a private editor to work with me directly on my WIP. It was the smartest use of time and funding. The relationship has grown over the past 6 months and I feel like I’m becoming a better writer. It was painful at first learning all of my deficiencies and yet with directed study and work assignments my scars are now stars.

    I grasped it best when after study I did some recreational reading of three books by Colleen Coble, Margaret Daley and Nicole Marchand. Like learning to identify parts of speech I was able to think, POV, Deep POV, Show, and Description as all of the pieces of my puzzle came together. Consequently, sitting down to write I mechanically flow.

    For the past few months I don’t feel so mechanically challenged in what were 3 deficiencies of 7 positive existing traits. My editor was quick to point those positives out first. Had I not hired an editor I suspect I’d still be struggling. When it comes time to submit to Tamela I know she and my targeted publisher of choice (met at the conference) will appreciate all the prep work to fit in the publishing template.

    The best positive from the conference was time with that publisher’s senior editor who suggested ‘its not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ you will write for us. Colleen Coble has written several times publicly and privately what she does pre-publisher with her editor so I’ve had some good mentoring this process can and does work to benefit a writer. As much as I look forward to working with a publisher’s editor I know my best use of funding is the pre-publish editor I have a friendship/relationship as it pertains to my work.

    Thanks again for the reassurance on this valuable topic.

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    Rick Barry June 24, 2013 at 8:58 am #

    Never until I read this post had I pictured agents and authors camping together and telling horror stories about editors from the Dark Side. That image made it worth pausing to read to read your post, Steve! But since I worked five years as a textbook editor, now I’m wondering whether my name has ever come up around a campfire. 😉

  4. Avatar
    Jeanne Takenaka June 24, 2013 at 9:41 am #

    I appreciate this post, Steve. And yes, I was biting my nails in the first few paragraphs of it. 😉 It’s so encouraging to read and be reminded that, once I’m with an editor (sometime down the road), they are “for” my book. When that time comes, I hope to have teachable spirit when that person suggests ways to make it better. I hadn’t realized the close relationships that can develop between author and editor. Thanks for sharing this!

    And I had to laugh as I envisioned those campfire conversations….. 🙂

  5. Avatar
    Robin Patchen June 24, 2013 at 9:49 am #

    Great information. Seems to me without the right editor for a project, a book will never be what it could be. I’m a decent writer, maybe even a good writer, but I can only see so much in my own work (even though those same issues are glaringly obvious in other people’s work). So only with a great editor can a project go from decent or good to exceptional.

    I don’t fear campfire chats where I complain about my editor. I fear he or she might be munching s’mores and whining about me.

  6. Avatar
    Judith Robl June 25, 2013 at 3:43 pm #

    A is for Agent.
    E is for Editor.

    Two essential vowels in the life of a writer. Thanks for this post, Steve.

  7. Avatar
    Joshua Shaw July 14, 2013 at 10:49 am #

    Steve, I made the decision to hire a freelance editor to work on my proposal and manuscript with me. Although the cost of doing such work was quite large, I felt it was necessary to take that step to ensure that my writing was presentable, professional, and looked at with a pair of objective eyes.

    Do you feel that this is a good step for first-time authors before they submit any material to agents and publishers?

    Thanks, Steve.


  1. P is for Preemptive Offer - The Steve Laube Agency - October 12, 2015

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