Monday, September 13, 2010



An editor is the captain of a ship of words. Sometimes the sailing is smooth and the captain enjoys a moment to get another cup of coffee or other source of caffeine. Most of the time, however, Captain Editor is “putting out fires” literally and figuratively.

So what does an editor do? She reads and reads and reads and reads, and then she thinks. Editors must read for work and for pleasure and to stay in touch with contemporary writing. They read manuscripts over and over. They read books on writing and works of fiction. They read the newspaper, magazines, billboards, signs, and telephone books to stay on top of the progress of the written word. This is how they guide a writer toward a concisely written story that makes good sense. And they have to know grammar. While most grammar rules are downright ancient, changes happen in the grammar world, albeit the changes happen about as fast as an iceberg melts. Editors stay current on grammatical issues by reading and studying constantly.

Editors respect the individuality and idiosyncrasies of the writer. Editors inspire writers to be the best they can be by offering honest praise and criticism. Editors help writers grow to understand that writing is a never ending attempt to get the words right. And they answer piles of emails and talk on the telephone. Somewhere they have to make time to think about how to reorganize a piece of writing to accommodate the reader and the writer while pleasing himself as an editor. Time to think is valuable to an editor.

They famous editor Max Perkins, who discovered and edited Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald among many other literary giants, was a great figure in the editing domain. He told writer Thomas Wolfe, “There could be nothing so important as a book can be.” All editors love books and writing and believe nothing else is more important than nurturing the written word even if some editing styles are a little rough around the edges. Perkins also said, “The book belongs to the author.” A model editor keeps this in mind as they work to help a writer’s words remain their own but display grammatical and literary clarity.

Like parenting, good editing sometimes requires tough love to get some writers to understand that although they wrote the words, the book is not a flesh and blood being that needs protected against all aggression. The book belongs to the author but the keen eye belongs to the editor. An editor sees beyond the emotional involvement of the writer and helps produce the best possible book while staying as true to the writer’s voice as possible. Not an easy task.

Send kindness to your editor this month with a handwritten thank you note saying you understand and you can be sure the editor will do their best to respect the writer in you. My editor cut 32,000 words from my latest novel and I didn’t need one bandage, just a drink or two, but I’m sending her a thank you card because the book ended up better for it. Thank an editor and a writer today!

Joy Held, copyright 2010


  1. Hi, Joy! Great blog post! I always make a point of sending editors and agents handwritten thank you notes -- even if they reject one of my manuscripts. It's professional and courteous to thank someone who has taken the time to read one's work, and it's good karma. ;-)
    -- Marcia James ;-)

  2. Great post, Joy! I agree. I'd have been lost without my editor's guidance with "Beyond a Highland Whisper". She pointed out things I'd have never caught and it's a much better book because of her.

  3. Great post! I'm an editor (day job) and writer (moonlighting), so I can see both sides of the story. This (usually) gives me perspective into my editor's point of view, even if I ultimately wind up disagreeing with something.