In defense of editors

“The only really necessary people in the publishing process now are the writer and reader,” [Amazon top executive Russell Grandinetti] said. “Everyone who stands between those two has both risk and opportunity.”

That’s a quote from a recent New York Times article about Amazon edging out publishers and dealing directly with authors. I can’t tell if it was quoted faithfully or taken out of context, but if it is a true statement of expression, I have to disagree. Even the best writers – however you define best – need editors. Not every author-editor relationship is a life-changing or earth-shattering one, but editing does improve books: editors might pose the right question at the right time, or suggest cutting an element that doesn’t move the story forward, or suggest a new angle. Writers can become so immersed in their own work they are unable to look at it clearly and objectively; here, too, an editor is helpful.

This is not to say that bad books don’t get published, even with an editor (define “bad” however you want – it’s out there). And it’s not to say that it’s completely impossible for an author to write and publish a work of quality without an editor – but that’s the exception, not the rule. After all, there are dozens of authors writing today who are top-notch, “experts” at what they do; those authors are still working with editors. Even Amazon is employing editors (though nameless executives won’t say how many).

The publishing industry gets a lot of flack. It’s not Wall Street; no one I met while I was working in publishing was in it for the money. It’s not innocent, either (come on, HarperCollins, 26?), but it does have a function, and it is a valuable part of the process by which an author produces a book and that book becomes commercially available. Amazon represents a legitimate threat to traditional publishers, but this is not the end of the world, let alone the industry. Radio wasn’t the end of books, TV wasn’t the end of books, and the Internet isn’t the end of books. If anything, the Internet proves how badly editors are needed.

3 thoughts on “In defense of editors

  1. […] doesn’t mean that many “traditional” elements aren’t crucial (see “In defense of editors,” October 2011). Books may have only one author, but many hands and minds go into their […]

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