Sunday, November 18, 2012

What Makes an Editor?

Disclaimer: I'm not referring to anyone in particular in this post. These are thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head that need an outlet. I sincerely want to learn from your opinions and anecdotes, so bring them to the comments!

What's the difference between an editor and a critique partner? I mean, really?

Critique partners give critiques.

And we, as writers, have the option to hire editors to give us feedback on our work.

And many of us are holding out for this dream of traditional publishing because an experienced editor will be working with us to make our books sparkle.

So, what is an editor?

Can our critique partners stick a sign on their blogs proclaiming themselves "editors" and start charging for critiques? Is that what an editor is? A paid critique partner? 

Or are editors those who are invested in the project because they know the success of the book will reflect on them and their publishing houses? Are these editors driven to do a more thorough job because the success of the book matters to them financially?

When a writer signs a traditional contract in a book deal, he or she is agreeing to go along with the editor's suggestions. (Of course, a writer can always say no to editing suggestions, but from what I've heard, he or she had better have a darn good reason.)

When you're reading a critique partner's suggestions, that's all they are--suggestions, meant to make you think about your book, meant to give another perspective. You can ignore everything they say if you want and it doesn't matter at all. I love all my critique partners dearly, but as much as I value their opinion, I don't  consider them "editors."

I took my agent's feedback on my book very seriously, so does that mean a book that has been critiqued by an agent has been "edited?"

Then we have to consider all the different types of editors out there ... Maybe our book has been edited by a freelancer, but did that freelancer copy edit? Did someone line edit? Is that even important any more in this publishing climate?

What's your experience? If you've self-pubbed, did you hire a freelance editor and did you take all their suggestions very seriously? How did you choose that editor? Or did you trust your critique partners enough to go for it without an editor?

And if you're traditionally published, how was your experience with your editor? Did you feel like that person helped you? I've heard editors have less and less time to devote to each individual project. Is this true, in your experience?

And if you're as yet unpublished, what are your plans? Are you holding out for a Big-House editor with years of experience under her belt, or do you think slogging your way through the process is overrated?

There are no wrong answers here, folks. Times are changing, and with so many options out there, I'm curious how others are making their publishing decisions.

On to the comments!

Photo credit: cohdra from


  1. Trusting my agent on this and letting go again and again and again.

    ~ Wendy

  2. Interesting topic. I think a truly great editor is invaluable... my husband had the opportunity to have his work critiqued by Patricia Lee Gauch, and the feedback and suggestions she gave him were so far beyond what any critique partner could have come up with that it didn't even merit a comparison. Not every professional editor has that brilliant insight, the ability to get to the heart of things, the savvy and the kindness and the razor-sharp intuition. But editing is something they actually learn and study, and they have much more experience than the average CP.
    Have you read The Fiction Editor, the Novel and the Novelist? A dense read, but very interesting, and not too long.

  3. Hmmm, you've touched on a LOT of things and I will say that having worked with CPs and editors, the two are vastly different, even though there are some similarities (giving an opinion, for instance).
    I've had the good fortune to work with some amazing editors, and they make me work so much harder, by making me think about why I'm writing the story, what it's really about, etc. etc. This is learned. As an ICL instructor, I've had to learn to give good editorial feedback to my students, and I'll tell you that the feedback I've rec'd from other ICL instructors is far in-depth than a regular CP (yes, teaching has its benefits!)

  4. I've worked with critique partners and have appreciated their suggestions and feedback very much.

    I also had one of my first books written edited by a freelance editor, and although that book didn't go anywhere, it was money well-spent. I actually think that edit took my writing further than any other thing I've done, including conferences and reading craft books.

    Now, I have my current book with a freelance editor that was recommended by a few self-published authors who have now switched from self-publishing to traditional contracts. I am excited to get the feedback, and hope the edit will take my writing another step further and make my story stronger. We'll see.

    It's difficult to find the right editor and decide just how much editing and what kind of editing you need. But it's important to get that outside feedback, for sure.

  5. Girl, I have no idea. Sometimes I feel like throwing myself on the floor and having a tantrum because it's all too overwhelming. I don't see CPs as editors but I do take their advice very seriously. I've heard the term 'editorial agent' thrown around and I always think I want one of those because I like people who help me become a better writer and have ideas to make my work stronger. I've wondered if hiring a freelance editor would be worthwhile even before I try to find an agent or a publisher, because my sense has always been that an editor is some kind of magical elixir for all the problems in a manuscript. The truth is, I have no idea what is best. I've made the decision to pursue traditional publishing, trust my gut, and work with people who make me a better writer.

  6. I'm not sure about a distinction as it varies from case to case. But I do know this--I'm very careful who I take edits from. It's taken me a long time to find critique partners who I trust, partners who are on the same level as me and who can look at my work critically given the parameters I've set and the vision I have for it (versus their own). Partners who will keep challenging me to make my own work better long after I feel like it's good enough. That doesn't mean I take every suggestion, but I do consider them all seriously, mostly because I know they're good & I trust that they're truly working hard to help me make my work better. But my agent's edits are only suggestions to me, in part because her strengths lie in selling, not necessarily in editing. I'll take them into consideration & see how it jives with what I'm working towards (also, by the time she gets my ms, the ms has already been reworked 15 times, literally, and at minimum--so I don't get many edits from her). But this can vary from agent to agent. As for professional editors, if you've signed a contract with someone who is going to publish your book, you better be sure they have the same vision for your book as you do because you have to trust them to guide you in the right direction, and there's less wiggle room. This is all just my experience though. I think all of it depends on who you're working with, their skill level, how much you trust them, their relationship with you, how well they understand your genre/vision, etc. Lots of variables.

  7. I am sitting on pages and pages of words, spinning because I don't know what I am supposed to do next. Which is the person who will either say "This is utter crap, but nice kindling" or "Sure keep going"?! Eeek!

  8. These are great comments so far! Thanks, everyone!

    Andrea, that's a good point. We need different types of people at different points of the journey. Critique partners are great at wading through our words and keeping us going, especially in that stage when can't tell which way is up! :D

  9. IMO, an editor is a trained professional. They're familiar with in-house protocol for technical issues and are well versed in what sells in your genre on the market. A good editor is a writer's guide, an expert there to navigate you through plot pitfalls, inconsistencies and be your reality check. (A good agent can do this, too, however, I wouldn't say an agent-edited book is "edited". I'd say it's been polished.) They are NOT there to be your cheerleader. A good CP is often that.
    As a journalist, I benefitted from an editor immensely.

  10. Very interesting post! I don't see my CP's as editors, but I value their opinion. My agent's suggestions all were perfectly aligned with my vision of the book, so I had no problems following them . . . feel it made the book stronger. Do I now consider her an editor? Not really.

    I've never worked with a freelance editor, so I don't know about that. But I think what sets an editor in the traditional publishing sense apart is that they have a stake in the book's success, too.

  11. I'm looking forward to the day when I have an agent, because every agent critique I've ever had has been super valuable. But at the same time, I love, love, love my critique partners!

  12. I can hardly wait to have an editor! Having someone believe in your story as much as you do is priceless.

    I have some amazing critique partners. I know without them I wouldn't be ready to consider looking for an editor.

  13. Interesting post. I adore my CPs. I definitley wouldn't be writing today without them. They whip my books into shape. Then there's my agent. He is very editoral and he knows how to take it one step further. He's got a fantastic eye. Now I have an editor. I'm still waiting for my notes from her but she'll take my book the next step and help me shape it into the book I want it to be.

    I actually got an offer from a different house with a different book, but I really wanted a strong editor for my book so I held out for a different deal.

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