Questionable: What Do Editors Do?

Diane commented on Tuesday:
I’m asking this in all seriousness, but what do editors do? I’ve heard authors talk about working with their publishers’ editors. Do they read and make alterations? Because it seems like you are doing so much analyzing and rewriting. What is it that editors are doing?

They do a helluva lotta things including deal with the editorial boards, the marketing department, the PR department, the author, the author’s agent . . . but I think you’re asking specifically about how editors edit a manuscript, right?

The simplest answer to your question is that it’s really rude to give any kind of editor a text you know isn’t right because it means you’re shoving off work that you can do and leaving it to her to fix things in the way she thinks best, which is possibly not the way you wanted.  If it’s broken, fix it before it gets to her.  I always know my editors (Jen and the copy editor) will find mistakes I can’t see, so I need fix the ones I can see, so they can see the text clearly enough to make it better. If I slow them down with a lot of stuff I can fix, I’m hurting their ability to edit. That’s just dumb. If you work with professionals, you should be professional.

A longer answer involves more caveats because editing is a very personal relationship because editors, like writers, comes in all degrees of usefulness and outlook. Continue reading