If at times I feel that, with regard to critics and readers, writers can’t please everyone, all I have to do is to think about editors, who often get blame they don’t deserve, and seldom get the credit they do merit.
I occasionally get comments about typographical errors, and often those comments blame the editors for those errors. Nope. With electronic publishing, I’m the one who made almost every typo that exists. If one slips past the editors, they get blamed. As I have noted in earlier blogs, a few typos in a 200,000 word book does not “destroy” it. After all, five typographical errors in a million characters is still an accuracy rate of 99.9995%. As a side note, I’ve also observed that those typos that tend to escape editors’ usually eagle-eyes take place in either the “driest” or the most exciting parts of books.
The other comment that I often see is to the effect that my books could use editing to get rid of all the “extraneous” material or “padding.” That doesn’t mean either exists; what it means is that the reader is reading the wrong book for his or her taste, and that they expect three hundred pages of non-stop action and the SF/fantasy equivalent of continual shootings and car chases, interspersed with various other salacious and/or extraordinarily violent encounters. As most of my long-term readers know, I don’t write those kind of books. [Try George R. R. Martin].
Editors are always faced with the problem of considering whether a scene is “necessary” or not, and the difficulty is that what is extraneous to one reader is vital and interesting to another. What a good editor does is to consider the “necessity” of a scene in light of the author’s readers or expected readers. This is also something that good reviewers do as well, and it’s frankly the mark of a bad reviewer to condemn a book for doing something well that is essential to the integrity of the book and to the expectations of the majority of its readers, but contrary to the desires and expectations of the reviewer.
I’ve often told beginning writers that, if an editor has a problem with something in a manuscript, there’s almost always a problem – but that it may not be exactly the problem that the editor thinks, since editors see where the problem appears, but not necessarily where it begins (because the error may lie in something that the writer did not do).
Editors sometimes even get blamed for the cover art, although it’s seldom entirely, and sometimes not in the slightest, the editor’s fault, since cover decisions vary to some degree from publisher to publisher and involve to varying degrees the editor, the art director, the marketing people, and sometimes the publisher. [But I can say that almost never is a predominantly green cover as good idea… and in my experience, lots of yellow doesn’t help much, either.]
Good editors can also keep authors from making horrendous mistakes, provided the author listens to them, which, unhappily, I’ve seen too many beginning authors fail to do. Part of such authorial failures lies in the fact that editors like to have books succeed, and succeeding means selling enough so that the publisher doesn’t lose money. So editors do tend to advise authors against writing strategies and books that are likely to fail. Sometimes… editors are wrong, but if you bet consistently against the editors, you’ll lose, as do most [but not all] authors who do so. A good editor can also mean the difference between success and failure for an author, and some authors will take a higher advance from another publisher and end up with more money in the short run, but find themselves with an editor either less suited to them. And, unhappily, at times an author has little choice about the editor with whom that author must work. Depending on the author, that can be very good, very bad, or make little difference.
Most of what I’ve noted above must be taken with more than a few grains of salt, given that much of it comes from observation, rather than direct personal experience because, in almost forty years of writing and publishing books, I’ve worked with exactly two book editors, one of them, and his various assistant editors, for all but two books, and, for me, that has worked out extraordinarily well.