A few years ago, this blog would have been a no-brainer.

The few-years-ago editor might have helped to shape your book, offering an objective, educated opinion as to why the orthodox Jewish dragon wasn’t moving the plot forward, why the 300,000 word sex scene might be overtaxing the average ten-year-old, whether an entire novel narrated by a diseased kidney was a good idea.

Of course no editor is infallible, but the few-years-ago editor might really have helped to shape your limping ragged butt-ugly duckling of a manuscript into a beautiful swan.

No more.

Nowadays, the job of the editor is to suggest that you travel to Gabon on a pogo stick and write a comic memoir featuring the sexual encounters you have on the road. (Hands up if your editor has never suggested a book you might like to write.)

So my question would be, how many of these editorially-inspired books actually end up successful?  Successful, as in big sellers or award winners or brilliant reads?

One in a gazillion? Fewer?

My guess is that they mainly provide cannon fodder for publishers, and a sense that the editorial staff is in control of the creative process.

But you see, they’re not, really.

Real writers write about the strange off-centre stuff that piques their strange off-centre little brains. That’s what occasionally produces a really really fantastic/successful/memorable/popular book. Not someone on the editorial floor thinking “Hang on… Ponies. And hair brushing! That’ll make us all fabulously rich!”  (OK, I grant you. Once in a blue moon, it works. But 99% of the time, it’s a colossal waste of everyone’s time and talent.)

All you hard-working editors out there searching for the prequel to the Old Testament that’ll leave Jeffrey Archer’s sales in the dust — please feel free to correct me.


P.s. having said that, one or two of my editors are good old fashioned geniuses.


8 thoughts on “The role of the editor in book publishing.

  1. SDCrockett 7 years ago

    Old testament?

  2. Francesca Simon 7 years ago

    I’m loving the diseased kidney narrator idea and am nicking it forthwith!

  3. bookwitch 7 years ago

    That’s a pink pony. Just saying.

  4. nicola baird 7 years ago

    I think the pony-hairbrushing idea is lovely, even if that wasn’t the point. I’m down on editors too. My books zero sales, classic loo books (???) such as Diary of a dog walker apparently selling 1k a week (good luck to the author and grrrr).

    1. Meg Rosoff 7 years ago

      There seems to be a certain cluelessness out there about the marketing genius who came up with My Little Pony — born from a meeting in which it was discovered that little girls love ponies and love hair brushing. Voila. The literary equivalent of sex and Nazis.

  5. Christina 7 years ago

    I once saw an ad for a children’s book editor with a major online company and amongst all the qualifications requested (most of which had to do with marketing and SEO and such), buried deep within, was a throwaway comment that “a love of books is a plus.” A plus! Not a must!

    Which is not to say I don’t appreciate my editors greatly–I hold them in the highest esteem. But I am sorry to see what is happening to the profession. Oh, and for what it is worth, in various correspondence I engaged in a year ago in regard to an over-the-transom submissino, apparently the only books publishing marketing departments want in the picture book field are back-to-school and Christmas books. Oh, and despite the heaps of Halloween books you see on tables in October, nobody publishes them. As Spock would say, “Fascinating.”

  6. ej runyon 7 years ago

    I long for the day I meet up with a modern-day Gordon Lish, or a Maxwell Perkins who will say to me, ‘I love what you have here, now let’s work on this to get it into shape.’

    As it is my last editor sent along notes in this his edits saying, “Rape and kittens – you are DARK.”
    Which I guess is a step in the right direction.

  7. ayse 7 years ago

    Ho Hum….I have so much to learn!!!

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