Where Have all the Editors Gone?

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Oct 12 2021

A common refrain we hear among authors is that editors don’t edit anymore. The complaint is that editors don’t have the time and that’s why it’s so hard to sell a book. In order to get published the book has to be perfectly edited and ready to publish.

I’m here to defend the editors and discuss the idea that they don’t edit, commonly based on rejections that really seem to be about easy fixes.

Editors Edit. They Also Meeting.

Editors, the good ones, absolutely edit. In between meetings, Tweeting, and everything else their job entails, they edit.

I can’t personally speak to the editorial job today. It’s been a long time since I’ve sat in that seat, but from my own experience, it is a delicate balance between all of the things you need to do on a daily basis and the editing. I suppose there was a time in the “golden age” of publishing (whenever that might have been) that editors did nothing but sit and edit all day. But you know what? I don’t really believe that. I believe even back then there was a delicate balance between the marketing and art meetings and publicity and sales and, of course, editing. Maybe though, back then, they didn’t handle as many authors.

I see the work editors put in, the letters they send to my clients, sometimes more than once. I’m here to tell you. They edit.

But My Rejection…

I strongly believe the argument that editors don’t edit comes from rejection letters that sound like simple fixes. We all want to give feedback, but in most cases the feedback isn’t the totality of our thoughts.

For example, I might reject your book by saying that the ending just felt too simple. Your thought is that you could easily fix that if I was an editor who actually edited.

But the truth is, fixing endings aren’t easy. The bigger truth is that I don’t know you, your writing, or your capabilities. So while I might have a vision for a better ending, I don’t know you well enough to know if you can do it. And then, of course, I guess I just don’t feel invested enough in the whole book to make the time commitment to find out.

If it makes you feel better when an agent gets a rejection that looks like this we rant the same way authors do. It’s so frustrating, but it’s also not a new phenomena.

My Experience

One of the many reasons I love being an agent is the freedom to take chances editors can’t. I’m not in charge of someone else’s bottom line or spending someone else’s money on my chances. The risks I’m taking by representing an author who needs a new ending are mine alone. My time really. But time is money. It really is.

I remember as a young editorial assistant pitching books to the publishing team with a clear vision of what the book could be. Excited over the possibilty. And I remember getting shot down. In other words, I was not given permission to buy the book.

While I might have had a vision, those who held the purse strings either did not, or knew what I hadn’t yet learned. Edits and revisions are hard and just beause we have a vision, doesn’t mean the author will, or that they can do the work.

Edits Will Happen

This doesn’t mean that when a book is sold edits don’t happen. Trust me, on behalf of all my clients, I will tell you. They definitely happen. They’ll happen with your agent, sometimes 1, 2,or 3 times. And then they’ll happen with your editor. Sometimes as many times. It won’t be easy and at some point you might wonder why the editor even bought the book.

Well, they had the vision and enough passion for your book to bring that vision to life. To take that chance.

3 responses to “Where Have all the Editors Gone?”

  1. Avatar Kathleen Schwab says:

    I am working on my first novel and learning so much reading your blog.

  2. Avatar Natasha Yim says:

    Great post, Jessica. As an author, I concur. All my editors have edited my work. Sometimes, I wish they wouldn’t edit quite as much. Haha. But they want to make your book as best as it can be too.

  3. Avatar Neil Larkins says:

    Very revealing. Thanks!