“Authors really depend on editors for one thing: the truth.”

Editors on Editing: What Writers Need to Know About What Editors Do, by Gerald Gross, is a collection of essays by editors, illuminating all the different things that go on in that strange editorial realm between writers’ and readers’ imaginations.

The book is broken into two parts (Theory and Practice) and includes essays like

  • “What Is an Editor?”
  • “What Editors Look for in a Query Letter, Proposal, and Manuscript,”
  • “Doing Good—And Doing It Right: The Ethical and Moral Dimensions of Editing,”
  • “Line Editing: The Art of the Reasonable Suggestion,”
  • and (one of my faves) “Editing the Science-Fiction and Fantasy Novel: The Importance of Calling Everyone Fred.”

This book covers everything from roles of different types of editors (e.g. acquisitions editors, freelance book doctors, line editors and copyeditors) to the different painstaking tasks they perform, and how writers should approach revisions. Not every essay will be useful (it’s a pretty eclectic and freewheeling selection), but there’s bound to be a few that inspire you one way or another.

For editors, there are tips on how to communicate effectively with authors, what to look out for in specific genres, and even advice on how to become an editor. There are also loads of great passages on how to use the art of suggestion to help authors strengthen their writing voice and engage their readers. As one essayist charmingly puts it, the editor is “the author’s umbilical cord to the outside world.”

This is an inspiring book for anyone entering into editorial collaboration, with plenty of advice and philosophies to help create great editorial relationships, set the right expectations, and sync minds in service of the story.

Here are some quotes to show some of different perspectives and aspects of editing discussed in these essays…

I often think of myself as playing the role of Gentle Reader with an author. That is, my job isn’t to correct his or her words, but to alert the author to the impact of his or her phrases: ‘This is how I read this sentence; this is what it says to me. Is that what you want it to say? Is that the most effective (or most direct, or most evocative, or most provocative) way of accomplishing that end?’

— Wendy M. Wolf, “Editing Nonfiction The Question of ‘Political Correctness.’”

You would be remiss if you did not express your opinions, reactions, thoughts; you’re paid to offer your author your advice as well as to be the reader’s advocate. But you offer opinions; you don’t have any right to issue orders. The author listens to what you say—and then accepts or rejects your suggestions.

— James O’Shea Wade, “Doing Good—And Doing It Right The Ethical and Moral Dimensions of Editing.”

What the book doctor provides is constructive, objective editorial advice from a skilled editor who will take the time to offer a specific “cure” for the ailing manuscript. Being a freelancer, concerned only with critiquing the manuscript at hand, the book doctor does not have to worry about whether a particular publisher could or could not sell it. It’s like having the uninterrupted attention of a private doctor as opposed to taking your chances with whatever doctor is available to treat you at a clinic. … [T]he book doctor can do the work that, psychologically or emotionally, you are not able to handle yourself.

— Gerald Gross, “Working with a Free-Lance Editor or Book Doctor.”

To me, the editing of fiction is an organic process, a back-and-forth exchange, in which both author and editor benefit from listening as well as speaking/writing. It becomes a building process, often deepening or enriching what already exists, in the best case making sublime what had been merely adequate, when an author is led to reimagine or create anew, rather than just make repairs.

— Faith Sale, “Editing Fiction as an Act of Love.”