The Marks of an Editor

By Kay Springsteen

With the rise in the rates of e-published books by independent companies and self-published authors, calls are going out for editors. As a senior editor at Astraea Press, I’ve been looking at editors’ tests with the goal of assisting in decisions about whether or not to hire applicants. And it’s because I’m seeing the same mistakes over and over that I decided to share what good editors must know to be successful at helping an author produce the best polished manuscript.

Thorough and demonstrable understanding of the mechanics of writing. This includes grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

Knowledge of the elements of story construction. This includes such things as point of view and how to recognize inappropriate shifts from one head to another in the scene (point of view breaks), recognition of telling where the author should be showing, the proper use of dialogue tags, and the ability to identify plots and subplots with an eye to ensuring these all move the story forward to some degree, that they are all wrapped up, and that no holes exist.

Communication skills. This would include the ability to communicate ideas and needs with senior editing staff and publisher as well as to accept direction or request clarification in the event such direction is not well understood. In addition, of utmost importance is the ability to clearly correspond with each individual author. The editor must explain why a specific change is needed, and should, in most cases, never make the change him/herself but instead explain to the author what is needed and ask the author to use his/her own words and author voice to make the correction. It’s okay, encouraged even, for an editor to make suggestions in order to show the author more clearly what is being sought. However, the editor must resist the urge to rewrite the story out from under the author. Just because you feel your own personal word choice or a plot/subplot direction is better does not make the author’s choices incorrect. Above all else, the story must remain the author’s story.

People skills. These days, little direct contact is made between editor and author. Most of the communication is done through email and through the notes in the margins. It is important that an editor explain why changes are requested in a manuscript, and in many cases illustrative suggestions should be offered—but not in such a way as the editor rewrites the book. Edits should be accomplished with the utmost respect regardless of what an editor thinks of the story or the author. And they should be made showing kindness and courtesy, not autocratically. Basically, it goes back to attracting more flies with honey than with vinegar. Unless you run across a colony of masochistic flies, honey is definitely the bait of choice. A little sugar goes a long way toward the working dynamic between two creative personalities. Thus, it is not enough to request editorial changes, even with an explanation. The editor needs to recognize an author’s bits of brilliance, and it’s important to show the author what he or she has done well along the way. That’s where compliments from the editor help. By providing positive feedback, the author is encouraged to continue doing what he/she has done right. Make all those red marks count!

With these tips in mind, I wish anyone who is of a mind to apply for an editing position the best of luck, and maybe one day soon I’ll be working with you. Anyone interested in applying to Astraea Press for an editing position, please submit your resume and qualifications with a letter of interest to Stephanie Taylor at – good luck!


2 responses to “The Marks of an Editor

  1. Great tips, Kay. It’s very discouraging when an editor tries to rewrite your manuscript. I’ve had mostly really good experiences though.

  2. I was so lucky to work with this most awesome editor! Hope I get that chance again soon 😉

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