How to be an editor (and what to do)

typewriterAn essential prerequisite for any good editor is the ability to work with the authors whose work they’re going over, making carefully considered suggestions and discussing things with them. You must also be able to argue cogently about why you’ve made suggestions or changes. While it’s very true that ultimately the author has the final say in any matter concerning their creation, it’s also true that they can be too close to the material to see what needs to be done to improve it. For instance, how many times have I written something, gone carefully and slowly over it several times looking for any mistakes, only for the editor at the other end to point out inconsistencies or missing words, or even suggested new avenues to explore? Your own work can be something of a blind spot – this is why a second pair of eyes is absolutely essential. You may think that your story is a work of genius, but all it takes is an editor to look at it and point out where you’ve gone wrong to bring you back to earth (in a good way).

Of course, this also works the other way – a writer who’s serious about their craft will cherish working with a good editor who can help them refine their writing further. A writer (and editor, if it comes to that) never truly stops learning, and I can safely say that writing is something of an eternal quest to attain those miniscule steps towards the unattainable. Like any good craftswoman, there’s always the urge to go one step further, to try something new or a different direction. A knowledgeable editor will be able to pick that urge up in a writer’s work and help push even further along the road (or even advise them to stick to what they’re best at!). Writing and editing are, at their best, a powerful combination.

Anthology editing is an art in itself – not just a question of picking the ‘best’ stories but also of discerning the rhythms between the stories selected. A good anthologist will design a book with these rhythms in mind, creating a seamless flow between the stories – the same also goes for single author collections. This is where a well-developed sense of story and how it works comes into play.

So, as you might have gleaned from the above, editing is not just a frivolous excuse for frustrated writers to dictate to those who actually do the writing in some kind of misplaced notion of getting their own back – it’s a very essential piece of the publishing process. This applies equally to self-publishing (in fact, I would say it is an absolute prerequisite in that arena) as it does to traditional book publishing. All writers would love to make it to the big time and have their work avidly read by millions, talked about or turned into the latest Hollywood blockbuster. Those are admirable aims (well, okay, I’m not too sure about the last one…). So, in order to give yourself the best possible chance, get yourself an editor to give your work a thorough going through – it could turn out to be an investment worth every single penny.

Next time, I’ll deal with what an editor doesn’t (or shouldn’t) do.


Simon Marshall-Jones is the editor/publisher at British Fantasy Award-nominated Spectral Press, and is also a writer, artist, columnist and blogger.

If you would like a free no-obligation quote about Simon’s freelance editing services contact him on


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  1. Absolutely agree with your article. Having a good editor is critical to turning out good material. Please don’t forget to mention that using your spouse, your mother, or the company receptionist isn’t going to cut it! Hire a professional at the going rate. And don’t be so sensitive about your baby. The editor is there to help not to discourage you from ever writing again.

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