The Role of an Editor

27th July 2012
5 min read
1st October 2020

Book editors face the difficulty that if well done, their job is absolutely invisible; the author’s meaning shines through and the reader is never exposed to the stylistic problems that got in the way in the original manuscript.


The standard of editing in books published today is a subject raised relatively often in the media: there are frequent complaints of sloppy presentation and poor grammar making it through to the final product, and industry commentators say increasingly that publishers see editing as a cost rather than a necessity. And if the author’s need for the publication is greater than the market’s insistence on absolutely perfect text (for example, academic titles, where to be published is essential to the professional reward system), authors regularly report that they are offered financial inducements to ensure that the editing costs as little as possible. They may even be offered a financial incentive to deliver a ‘preedited’ text, which means it will receive no further editorial attention in-house (but of course that does not mean none is required).

A professional editor?

If you decide to publish yourself, it is almost certainly worth ensuring that what you say is easy to read, and you may consider employing the services of a professional editor. You can find one by contacting a professional organisation for freelance editors and proofreaders. Jane Tatam of Amolibros (, an agency specialising in self-publishing, commented as follows:

I have always had strong views about self-publishing. I’ve been in the publishing industry for nearly 30 years, and set up Amolibros about ten years ago with a view to helping authors self-publish, and providing professional assistance throughout that process. It seemed that the marketplace offered a choice of “do-it-yourself – but not very well” or being ripped off by a vanity publisher or so-called “self-publishing firm”, who would also give poor professional support for even more money.

I know the industry well and hate the often snobbish attitude that both publishers and agents can have towards self-publishing. The self-publishing industry has been so beset by crooks – often called vanity publishers – who feed on people’s hopes and then disappoint them, that the result has been to blame those seeking self publication rather than those who seek to defraud them. That is an enormous pity, because self-publishing has enormous potential. It represents the ultimate freedom of the press, and given the way many of the large publishing companies are now run, is a valid alternative for the presentation of new and exciting talent.

Even established authors turn to self-publishing from time to time. It is not a crime, nor a method of publishing to be derogatory about. (Called private publishing in the 19th century, it was once the respected pastime of the peerage.) It should be celebrated in much the same way as the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, as a showplace for emerging and interesting talent, and I believe eventually it could have a real place of merit. If bad manuscripts are self-published, ultimately that doesn’t matter – the industry proper is just as guilty of doing that. But every now and then there may be a real gem, and for that it is really worth it. There is also enormous potential with informative and professional non-fiction writing, where knowledge of the marketplace can give the author a head start over the conventional publisher. Finally, as a method of archiving personal information, which may not be valued now, except within a limited marketplace, but could well be highly significant in years to come, not least for research purposes, it is invaluable.

Nobody should ever delude an author into believing it is easy to make a profitable success out of self-publishing – it certainly is not, particularly in the areas of fiction, poetry and memoirs; but it can be an enormously satisfying process. The sooner writers start thinking about marketing, the better. It is best to realise from the outset that the majority of bookshops are unlikely to be supportive and are often prejudiced against self-publishing. Other ways must be sought, starting with pre-publication quotes from supportive worthies, and going on to designing direct mail campaigns, giving talks and offering to write articles. Even fiction can be sold this way, if the storyline has a solid ‘peg’ on which to hang the marketing. The Internet is fast becoming a good way to sell books but its contribution should not be over-estimated!

But every book that is self-published needs some loving care and professional attention to detail with regard to both the finished product and the marketing of it. That is exactly what I try to provide at Amolibros. There is no handy formula for this – I get to know myauthors, help them reach their objectives and provide a personal service coupled with professional expertise and a thorough knowledge of the industry and how it works.

Writing stage