1) THEY’RE ON TEAM “YOU”.
As a writer, the thought of getting comments back on your work is daunting. It’s like a flashback to school. But it’s not school. Red pen isn’t a bad thing (I say that but I’ve noticed many schools have now banned red because it’s too confrontational?!). When your editor sends your text back with scribbles all over it, THIS IS GOOD. Editors aren’t the enemy. They’re on Team YOU. They want the best for your writing, for your book, and for your career (which, they hope, will be a long and happy one with THIS as your lovely publishing “home”). When you look at it like that, pen is good. It means they’ve found ways to elevate and strengthen your story. They’re busy people. If they’re sending comments, it’s because they’re invested in you. A good editor will show you that. They’ll lift your spirits and their belief in you will be infectious. You’ll go to sleep with a smile stuck to your face. Writers are delicate creatures. LET’S BE HONEST - we like a bit of love.
2) THEY’RE YOUR INTERNAL CHAMPIONS
At a publisher, your editor is the person who will be your internal HERO. They’ll pass your book around the team and rally up the troops. They’ll do all the strategising, number crunching and Excel wizardry you need to get through the Acquisitions meeting - a magical convention under the light of a full moon where books are bought and songs are sung (or something like that). Your editor LOVES your book and wants to make everyone else fall in love with it too. See? Team YOU. All the way.
3) THEY READ WITH FRESH EYES
Fact of the matter is you’re too close to your work. We all are. We’ve read it a zillion times and on the zillion-and-second reading, the randomest stuff starts to make sense. Resting a manuscript can help but what helps even more is someone completely removed from it. Your editor comes at the whole thing with a fresh head. They can SEE the holes. They don’t know all that beautiful backstory. They don’t know what you were absolutely trying to get across. They see what’s on the page and (drawing on all their experience) what a reader might get out of it. And it’s not just the holes - they see opportunities too! After working on a story for some time, you take certain things for granted. They’re so deeply embedded in the story - things like the setting, the gender of your characters, the POV, the tense. After a point, you may not even play around with some of those. In swoops the editor with a “WHAT IF” you hadn’t thought about and MAYBE, just maybe, it takes the whole thing to a completely different level. My PRH WriteNow editor-mentor did this for one of my stories and it blew my mind.
4) THEY KNOW THEIR STUFF
This goes without saying really. They’ve got their fingers on the pulse. They’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. If they’re a top quality editor, they have good gut feel for these things. They’ve mastered the art of reviewing a manuscript, analysing it, pulling it apart to stress-test it and putting it back together again. They can do that “rotate-a-3D-object-in-space” thing but with your story. They can IMAGINE the crazy structural edit that might just transform your book. I’m not saying you should do a blanket “ACCEPT ALL CHANGES”. Look at the comments with a cup of tea and a cool head. Take the things that you agree with, question the ones you’re not sure about. ASK about the ones you can’t wrap your brain around. They won’t judge you. They love you. See above.
Which reminds me - something they don’t tell you: EDITING IS A CONVERSATION. It’s a fluid, organic thing. There’s a lot of back and forth between editor and writer. You’ll settle into a routine with this and it’ll become more natural. Over time, you’ll be more confident challenging things where you feel like you’re losing the heart of your story or asking what feels like a silly, niggly, oh-God-I’m-wasting-your-time-type question. Challenge things and ask away. But also remember, we can’t be precious about everything - editors do know their stuff.
5) THEY’RE CONDUCTORS IN THE ORCHESTRA THAT IS THE MAKING OF YOUR BOOK
Be nice to your editors, okay? The job title is misleading. They do so much more than edit (she says as if THAT in itself isn’t a HUGE thing). If you’re a picture book writer, they’re working across the words and pictures, liasing with the designer (who is like an editor for the illustrator), agents (if any), the copyediting team, sales, marketing, and publicity. For some types of books, this is a LOT of work. And multiply that by “A LOT” because there will be a number of books in the pipeline + the glorious backlist to look after and refresh + more books coming through submissions channels.
And despite ALL of that, they’re totally here (within reason and as far as practicable) for your individual clingy-writerly needs. They’re your product managers, your extra pair of fresh eyes, your champions. And no matter what anyone tells you, they’re on Team YOU.
*This post is about editors at a publishing house but a lot of this applies to any professional editor. My Golden Egg Academy Picture Book Programme editors, for example, were amazing. With one lyrical story, my editor sent comments that took MONTHS to unpack but the result was incredible - more on that another day.