The real difference between editors and authors

I am often intrigued by the number of authors who, for various reasons, believe they can also be good editors – and market themselves as such.

Wright_Typewriter2Sometimes it works. More often it doesn’t. Several times, now, I’ve had manuscripts butchered during the publishing process by contract editors who, in fact, were obviously writers. One of them totally failed to ‘get’ what I was doing in one of my books and tried to totally re-write it, as if he were the author, sourcing his re-writes with stuff he’d pulled from a single other book, and sprinkling the MS with patronising comments along the way as if I were a novice in his field. (When I last looked, I had ten times the number of books published that this guy had managed, over a far longer period. Sigh…).

It happens, though. And my first port of call in such circumstance is to ask the publisher to find another editor and get the job done competently. Sometimes that happens.

The fact is that editing is a separate skill of its own, one that demands less creativity and more technical analysis than writing. Editors also have to be able to stand back and accept that the author’s voice is valid, even if it isn’t how the editor would necessarily express themselves. If the archetypes are to be believed, authors and editors are actually two different sorts of people:

1. The Archetypal Editor is…

– analytical thinking
– goal-focussed
– structured
– identifies boundaries
– word-focussed
– technical

2. The Archetypal Author is…

– visual/creative
– has original thoughts
– identifies boundaries in order to break them
– dreams
– relational/conceptual thinking

See what I mean? As I say, sometimes you’ll get an author who fills both categories. But not often. And that’s why authors really shouldn’t present themselves as editors – unless, of course, they have those ‘editorial’ analytical skills. And a red pen.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015

7 thoughts on “The real difference between editors and authors

  1. And here I simply assumed that “all” editors cleaned up the mere technical flaws and left the thrust of the text to the author. I am naive, apparently. It’s another case of my “outrageous thinking” where I expect things to make sense.


  2. Sorry you had a bad experience. But please don’t generalize – some of us started editing before we were authors, so perhaps I have a different perspective because I worked for a publisher before I became an author. But I do agree that authors marketing themselves to other authors as Copy Editors & Proofreaders without the formal training/education to do such is a bad idea. One cannot be writing their own novel while editing someone’s else’s novel. I’m fortunate I guess that I realized there needs to be a balance. It requires turning off the Dreamer Author when it means getting down to business as Analytical Editor so someone else can find their success in writing. To me it can’t be any other way – it just doesn’t work. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic – it needs to be addressed.


    1. The editors I had the bad experiences with (three occasions, to date) weren’t amateur editors selling to self-pubbing authors – they were editors working as professionals who had contracted with major publishers. That was the gripe; their work wasn’t up to the mark in the commercial environment. I do editing myself, professionally, as well as writing. You’re right; one mind-frame has to be ‘switched off’ before the other ‘switches on’.

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