Four Things I’ve learned as an Editor

When I started in this business nearly a year ago, I came from a background as a reporter and a writer. Even though I have done far more editing than writing, I believe that everything I’ve learned as an editor has helped make me a better writer. In fact, here are some hard-learned lessons:

1. Focus on your craft. Every writer wants to be published, but far too many writers want to be published more than they want to write. Every day, I reject manuscripts that I would be embarrassed to show to my friends, let alone to a publisher. These are stories with incoherent plots, cliched characters and in which the writers haven’t even bothered to do the most basic spelling or grammar checks. Your work is the first thing a publisher will see of you – and the only thing the vast majority of your readers will ever see – so make sure it is the absolute best it can be before you start shopping it around.

2. Selling your book is just as important as writing it. As a writer, I find it much easier to express myself on the page than on stage. But I have come to realize that the difference between the mediocre writer that everyone is reading and the brilliant writer that no one has heard of is marketing. Most publishers are understaffed and overworked and they will do what they can to market a writer’s book, but it won’t be enough. And it won’t be as effective as anything the writer can do for themselves. Just remember: those writers who think that selling is beneath them are very often the same ones complaining about how small their royalty checks are.

3. Negotiate in good faith. Your publisher isn’t out to cheat you (usually). So if you have anything that you and your publisher disagree on – be it your royalties, the proposed cover of your book or a revision of a particular chapter – explain your position clearly and respectfully. Make every effort to try to work towards a mutually beneficial solution and don’t do anything you wouldn’t want done to you. Which brings me to my next point...

4. Don’t be a diva. The world of publishing is incredibly small. When writers are rude or dismissive, even to people they think are underlings, it can affect their prospects in the industry. Unfortunately, some writers’ antics have gained them a reputation for being difficult to work with. For big name writers this could mean their works may not be edited as closely or as thoroughly as they could, leading to a poorer book, but for first-time writers, this could mean publishers and editors might be hesitant to take on their new works – even if their books are bestsellers.

If you're a writer or an editor or anyone else who's had some experience in the publishing industry, tell us your lessons learned. We'd love to hear from you.


  • All great advice, guys. Thanks!

    Posted by chinelo on September 08, 2011
  • I think you’ve listed the four most important points. When I run writing courses, I always tell delegates to be nice because:

    1) the publishing industry is very small

    2) nobody wants to work with a jackass

    Writers should keep on learning and working on their craft. Just because I’m published does not mean that I should assume ALL knowledge.

    Posted by Abidemi Sanusi on August 27, 2011
  • Though I am a published romance writer, I’ve come to realise that there are lots more to learn about the creative world. It is up to me to embrace everything that can enrich me and make me a better writer.

    Posted by Netty Ejike on September 07, 2011
  • Thanks for the article. You’ve raised some salient points about writing and trying to get published.
    The point about honing your craft cannot be over-emphasised. It is extremely important when dealing with agents and publishers to put your best foot forward and make sure your work is publish-worthy. It is your chance to make a good impression, don’t blow it.
    If grammar isn’t your strong point, then get someone, whose it is, to go over your manuscript with a fine tooth comb before submitting it. It may cost some money but it is worth it and will definitely earn you much more in the long run.

    Posted by Nkem Ivara on September 07, 2011

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