Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Author Editors: Emerging Authors Want To Know!

Dear Exalted Editors,

I recently went to a science fiction literary convention, and I had the chance to mingle with established authors and emerging authors from all walks of life. It really drove home the fact that not all emerging authors are like me. Specifically, it made me think about the different experiences some of these writers were bringing to their writing careers.

The author/editor combination is one that I'm seeing more and more frequently. In this case, either a published author decides to become an editor, or an editor decides to give publication a shot.

I can see the benefits to both of these transformations. Authors who have worked for years on perfecting their own writing should have a fairly good eye for making corrections in other people's work. Editors who have slaved over manuscripts in various stages of polish should be ahead of the game when it comes to polishing their own. Have the author/editors here found this to be so? What other benefits are there? Would you suggest an emerging author try out a career in editing at some point?

Crossing over like this also raises some questions for me. When an editor becomes an author, does this create a conflict of interest? For example, because editors are in a position of power, might they have the potential to turn away competing authors? I know it's paranoid, but it has crossed my mind. What suggestions do you have for setting up boundaries? Can you allay my emerging fears?

Signed, Editing A Happy Ending?

Zetta Brown: You've just described my life! I'm an author and editor and I can relate to "the conflict within," if you know what I mean.

In fact, I was thinking of doing an entry on my blog about it.

Speaking as an author, I love reading and writing and want my words to make sense. Improving my editing skills was a natural progression, in my opinion. Any author who has tried to get published soon learns that their work needs to be as clean as possible in order for it to pass muster.

Speaking as an editor, I like working with new authors trying to establish themselves. I've helped (or tried to help) many people get published as a freelancer. In my opinion, an editor shouldn't try to rewrite an author's work in their own image but help the author say what he or she is trying to say. As far as worrying that an editor being an author creates a conflict of interest, there's really no need. You can give a group of 5 people the same writing assignment and get 5 different stories.

Personally, I wouldn't suggest an "emerging" author to don both caps until he or she has some experience with submitting their work and having it rejected or accepted. I also wouldn't suggest an author, who can't TAKE critique, to try and dish it out on someone else.

But I don't think there's anything wrong with an author being an editor, or vice versa.

With regard to setting boundaries, and speaking as editor-in-chief for our publishing company, when I review submissions (in my position of power ;D) I'm just looking out for an entertaining read that also displays an understanding of the technical aspects of writing.

Maryann Miller: Just to clarify about editors possibly hogging the book slots if they are also authors, rest easy. That doesn't happen. Well, maybe in some obscure one-person publishing entitiy that started up to publish his or her books. But the publishers that I have worked for have separate acquisition editors, so I couldn't bump somone's book off the list even if I wanted to.

Working as an editor for other writers has certainly helped me in my writing, and I find that I don't continually make some of the mistakes I used to when I first started out. Seeing them in other work helped bang the concept into my thick skull. :-) So from that standpoint, editing is a useful learning tool, but I think it would be hard for an emerging author to get jobs as an editor.

You would need some education and training to be able to do it professionally. Some editors start out as copy editors, or proofers, and that is certainly a way to launch an editing career, but I think a new writer would be better off focusing on learning and practicing the craft of writing and save the editing for later. I didn't start editing professionally until I had been writing and selling for about 15 years. During the process of being edited, I learned a lot about how the relationship between editor and author works. That also taught me some of the fine points of editing, as did the years I edited for a magazine and trained with the senior editor there.

Emma Larkins has a dream: to make a living as a published author. Her publication credits include a story titled Midsummer Disc Dreams in the outdoor literary magazine, In the Mist, and an article called The Writer's Passion on the Feminine Aspects website. For more information, check out her blog and her website.


  1. Emma,
    I can see how there might be some concern on the part of an aspiring author about a potential conflict of interest if an acquisitions editor is also an author published by the same house. However, the acquisitions editors I know who are also authors do not acquire their own manuscripts. They submit to another editor in the house. Although an editor who works with an author might be predisposed to consider the manuscript, publishers are in the business of making money. Acquisitions editors don't keep their jobs unless they acquire books that are reasonably successful for the company.

    And there should be no concern about other editors (freelancers like me who work with individual authors or editors other than acquisitions editors at a publishing house). We don't make acquisitions decisions.

  2. Another great question Emma.

    Thanks to all the author/editors who responded and gave us writer-only types a brief glimpse inside your worlds.

    You mentioned aquistion editors and copy editors. How many different kinds of editors are there and what do they do?

  3. I think Lillie said it very well -- the freelance editor that an author is likely to hire to look at his or her manuscript is different from the acquisitions editor at a pub house.

    Acquisition editors are looking for that great book they can recommend the house acquire. Freelance editors are looking for that manuscript they can help make it to the top of the acquisition editors pile of possible manuscripts.

  4. Charlotte, I'll try to answer your question about how many editors there are.

    At major publishing houses, and most university presses, there is an acquisitions editor, sometimes more than one, who reads submissions and decides which books are accepted to go before the editorial and marketing board to be considered.

    That same editor might then be the first editor to work with the author on what I refer to as "content editing." In this stage the editor focuses on the craft of writing and makes suggestions on how to improve the book.

    Once that is completed, then another editor will go through as a copy editor, looking for spelling, grammar, continuity, and other minor mistakes.

    In some cases, the book will then go to a proofer to scan once more for mistakes.

  5. I can see why acquisition editors would submit their work to another editor in the house. It's always good for a fresh look at the work. When you write something, you're just too close to it to do a thorough job.

    Morgan Mandel

  6. Wow! You guys could make a whole other post with all this great info :) That's fascinating about the different types of editors, Maryann. I didn't know there were so many! And I could see why you'd submit your work to another editor. After a few rewrites, I can hardly see straight, let alone judge the value of my work!

  7. A good way to get started on the eventual road to being an editor is to join a critique group and learn how to identify common issues that crop up and how to explain these tactfully. This can also help you find your preferred niche for editing/critiquing.


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