The Crucial Role of an Editor in the Publishing Process: Insights from Bestselling Authors

An Overview of the Basics

The Crucial Role of an Editor in the Publishing Process: Insights from Bestselling Authors

This is a summary article that broadly covers a complex topic – for more specific advice, please ask inside the Colony.

Most authors spend a long time writing their manuscript and, as you know, generally authors work alone. That solitude disappears as soon as your work is taken up by a publisher because the publishing process is a collaboration. Designers, publicists and marketing experts will work together behind the scenes to position your book. But the most complex and rewarding collaboration takes place between authors and their editors.

Every writer, without exception, benefits from working with an editor. If a publisher offers you a contract, they immediately assign you an editor. This is to bring out the full potential of your manuscript and does not indicate that there is something wrong with it… or you.

Rather, having been immersed in your project for months or years, nose to the grindstone, you may not have had a fresh pair of eyes read through your book. Publishers recognize that a ‘first read’ is best done in-house by a benign and competent editor who will then work with you to polish the manuscript. Here are key tasks on which an editor and author will collaborate:

  1. An Eye for Craft and Structure: Editors possess a keen eye for literary craft and structure. In fact, they are sometimes called book ‘doctors’ for their ability to analyze a book’s overall structure and coherence as well as the effectiveness of your writing. They see the big picture. If they see something that could be adjusted for the better, they will say so. As Stephen King, the master of suspense, asserts, “To write is human, to edit is divine.” King credits his success to the constructive criticism and editorial guidance he received early in his career, highlighting the editor’s role as a mentor who helps authors enhance their storytelling abilities.
  2. Collaborative Development of Characters and Themes: Editors often serve as a sounding board, challenging you to explore the motivations and relationships of the characters you have created. This particular work draws on the themes of your story, too, and an editor will ensure themes and characters function well together. J.K. Rowling, creator of the Harry Potter series, acknowledges the importance of her editor’s input in shaping her characters and their passage through the story. This journey and the manner in which each character develops, is called the arc of their story.
  3. Strengthening Narrative Voice and Style: Most authors have spent some of their early career writing in the style of another author… from Atwood to Zola. It can take a while to find your unique voice: the style of writing that grows out of your own insights and represents you, alone. Once you are published, your writing must also resonate with readers. An editor will help you create myriad ‘bridges’ between these two goals – your unique voice and your readership – by checking for consistency in tone, language, and style throughout the manuscript. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat, Pray, Love,” claims that her editor’s feedback helped her find her own authentic voice. On publication, sales figures proved her voice is one that readers adore.
  4. Perfecting Plot and Pacing: Writing is all about readers. Your writing succeeds when it transports the reader into a world you have created. But, once you have transported them, you have to keep them there, enthralled, until the very last page. The pace and structure of your plot are fundamental to this aim. A sluggish or sloppy plot will disappoint the reader and they may drift away, never to open your book again. Not good for sales! An editor will help you identify pacing issues, plot holes, and structural inconsistencies so that you craft a gripping narrative that keeps your readers eagerly turning pages… right to the end.
  5. Polishing Language and Grammar: When the muse taps you on the shoulder, you probably drop everything to capture the flow of ideas. However, that sense of urgency can sometimes obstruct correct word usage. Bestselling authors such as Margaret Atwood and Toni Morrison know this and have praised the importance of their editors’ grammatical expertise. Editors possess a meticulous eye for language and will scour your manuscript to ensure proper grammar, syntax, and punctuation. They deftly finesse your draft into a polished manuscript, eliminating the errors and distractions that may hinder the reader’s immersion in the story.
  6. Market Insight and Target Audience: When they aren’t attending to your manuscript, editors work beside the publicity and sales teams within the publishing house. Editors gather genre-specific market insights and the latest on readers’ preferences. With their ‘finger on the pulse’ they can help authors reach both specific and general audiences. Thriller author James Patterson credits his editor’s understanding of market trends as an essential factor in his commercial success. By providing guidance on genre conventions, marketability, and reader expectations, editors empower authors and help to make their work more appealing to a wider audience.
  7. Emotional Support and Constructive Criticism: Editing is a professional process, but it is not without tears! Often your editor is right, even if you don’t want them to be. They can see the cutting, chipping and polishing that must happen before your book is at its sparkling best; and they have to help you perform those tasks. But, while editing involves critiquing an author’s work, it is also about offering support and encouragement. For instance, award-winning author Neil Gaiman acknowledges the emotional boost he receives from his editor, who believes in his talent even when he struggles. A skilled editor will provide constructive criticism in a way that motivates authors to improve and excel, without diminishing self-esteem or their creative spirit.

The role of an editor in the publishing process is indispensable. Bestselling authors from various genres have attested to the transformative impact of their collaboration with editors. Wielding all of their many skills, editors serve as trusted partners on the author’s journey. Their guidance, expertise, and understanding of the market contribute hugely to the creation of captivating and successful books. Aspiring authors should embrace the editor’s role as a valuable asset and recognize the significant contributions they bring to the writing and publishing process.


  1. King, Stephen. “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.” Scribner, 2000.
  2. Rowling, J.K. “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.” Bloomsbury Publishing, 1998.
  3. Gilbert, Elizabeth. “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.” Riverhead Books, 2015.
  4. Brown, Dan. “The Da Vinci Code.” Doubleday, 2003.
  5. Atwood, Margaret. “The Handmaid’s Tale.” McClelland and Stewart, 1985.
  6. Morrison, Toni. “Beloved.” Knopf, 1987.
  7. Patterson, James. “Along Came a Spider.” Little, Brown and Company, 1993.
  8. Gaiman, Neil. “The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction.” William Morrow, 2016.

This is a broad overview of a dynamic topic: for specific help and encouragement at every stage of your writing life, join the Colony!