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  • Writer's pictureKathleen Hearn

The Relationship Between the Editor and Author

Updated: Apr 7

As graduation looms around the corner, it’s a great time to reflect on what I’ve learned in the Writing Arts program at Rowan. Generally, the focus hasn’t been about how to use punctuation correctly, how to write an academic paper, or how to write a best seller. At the end of the day, aside from the many projects that have challenged me and helped me improve my writing skills, my greatest takeaway is the ethical responsibility that writers carry, and how the editor’s role also plays a part. We must always ask ourselves why we are telling the stories we tell, who we are writing for, and what impact our writing has on our readers. 

Another ethical concept, which I find to be a bit tricky, is the crucial relationship between an author and their editor. A close friend of mine works as a freelance editor for sapphic romance authors. She had once confided in me about a manuscript she worked on that was so difficult to read, it impacted her mental health. I won’t go into great detail, but there were apparently unnecessary, triggering scenes of violence that didn’t serve much purpose to the story. My friend completed the manuscript, but later told the author that she would no longer work with her. The content was too heavy and she felt that it was harmful. 

This sheds light on how both writing and editing require ethical boundaries to be put in place. The editing process is a collaboration that should be professional and respectful. If the manuscript contains insensitive or harmful content, it is an editor’s responsibility to point it out and, if necessary, set up their own boundaries. Even if the author has no malicious intent, they must collaborate with the editor and address any ethical issues that might be present in the story. 

Another challenge for the author might be to understand that their editor is not their friend nor their enemy. This can be hard; I can attest to that. As writers, we treat our stories like babies we must protect, and we put so much trust in our editors. Therefore, it can be hard not to react defensively when editors point out issues that we didn’t realize were there. But it’s important to remember that an editor’s job is to help you. That doesn’t mean their job is to tell you that your story is flawless or the best piece of writing they have ever read. Of course that’s what we want to hear, but it is important that the editor feels comfortable providing honest feedback. However, that doesn’t mean the editor should ever say things like, “Your story sucks! I hate it!”. A professional editor should know the correct approach to making criticisms. It is meant to be collaborative, constructive and helpful. An editor’s job is to use their knowledge and expertise to make your story the best it can be for the intended reader. And as the author, it is your job to listen to the editor and work with them as a professional team. At the end of the day, it is up to the author to decide whether or not they will accept the editor’s changes. 

So, what I mean to say is that the relationship between the author and editor can be complicated, but if both parties work together in an ethical and collaborative way, your story will only get better!

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