Author vs. Reader: who do you work for?

As a freelance editor, I sign a contract with each of my clients. It stipulates that I, the editor, will complete work for my client, the author. In this sense, an editor works for the author. The author has requested the work. Yet, as an editor and promoter of story, I am also concerned with clarity for the sake of the reader.

So, who do you really work for?

I can’t work only for the author or else nothing would get done–no improvements would be made, no difficult questions asked, and then I would have failed in my task as an editor. But, I also can’t work only for the reader, ignoring the author’s feelings and connection to their piece. A good editor knows how to find a balance between the two–how to keep the author happy enough to work through their project while continually advocating for the reader.

Writing is a deeply personal act. Even if an author enters the editing process with a completely open mind, once they perceive that an editor is disrespecting their work, things can go sideways very quickly. An author who feels threatened may refuse to take the editor’s suggestions seriously. For this reason, it is so important for the editor to strike balance between ignoring glaring issues to stave off an author’s ire and disparaging their work.

It all comes down to tone. When querying an author, an editor should make sure to point out problems in a gentle manner. One tip I received in my copyediting classes was to eliminate the word “you” in a query. Even if you don’t mean your query to sound accusatory, referring to the author in the second person can come across as accusatory. Keep your queries succinct, informative, and soft, giving the author the necessary information without accusing them of making a “horrendous” mistake.

Don’t forget to point out moments in their prose that you enjoyed or moments that made you laugh. Positive comments can go a long way to keeping an author on your side, encouraging them as they work through the daunting task of editing their manuscript.

Ultimately, a good editor knows how to advocate for the reader while maintaining a positive working relationship with the author. For truly, hell hath no fury like an author scorned. And no editor wants that.

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