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Do You Really Need an Editor at a Publishing House?

04/27/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Do you really need an editor at a publishing house?

I am really annoyed. All this talk about digital. How we read, who will pay, who will be paid and how much is being discussed by everyone in the publishing community who has an opinion -- and that pretty much means every one of us. But that is not why I am annoyed.

I recently had a conversation with someone I think should know better; a respected published writer. We are all in a heated conversation about digital and electronic books and the subject of the writer going electronic directly with his or her book came up, bypassing the editorial process in a traditional publishing setting. The writer said: "Why not? There is no editing anymore." Not only is that not true, but it certainly didn't understand the complex role of the editor in a publishing house.

True, with the economies of today, there is so much for the editor to do and the workload is so great, that in some cases, writers might get short changed. But in general, the editor today is working very hard, late at night and on the weekends, trying to get the best possible book from the writer.
And I am happy to say that as many as there are who complain, there are just as many who acknowledge the good work that editors can and do for a writer.

My good friend and best selling writer Maeve Binchy has written a comforting book with advice, information and inspiration for the writer. She convinced me to write a piece for it that I have titled To Be An Editor There are at least ten things that an editor does for a writer and editing the book is only one of them. This is from the book The Maeve Binchy Writer's Club to be published by Anchor Books and goes on sale March 9, 2010.

l. Choosing the book

2. Negotiating the deal with the author or agent

3. Editing the book

4. Working with copy editing, design, and production

5. Writing jacket copy and catalog copy; work with the art director on the jacket

6. Positioning the book within the company as an advocate to sales and marketing

7. Being aware of what is happening in the publishing business so you can make informed decisions

8. Communicating to the author and agent what is happening to the book along the way.

9. When the book is published, cheering for the good reviews and commiserating for the bad ones (and explaining that even Jane Austen and Herman Melville got bad reviews).

10. Being there for the author's next book.

So before, you, as a writer, decide to bypass the publisher and the editor, remember it is the role of the editor to be the author's advocate in the arduous publishing process so that the book will get the readership it deserves. Jonathon Galassi's: "There Is More to Publishing Than Meets the Screen" in the New York Times, January 2, 2010, expressed it logically and eloquently.

Next time, I write I want to take on the editor's contribution in the editorial process. It is real. It exists. Why would anyone give up the chance to make his or her book even better? Next, I will write about how I approach a manuscript as an editor once the manuscript is finished: Does Anyone Ever Edit Anymore?

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