From Good to Great: What Editors Do for Authors

In all the talk about self-publishing, one thing you don't often hear discussed is the role of editors. I'm not talking about the editor an author might hire to vet their work prior to publishing it themselves; I'm talking about editors at major publishing houses. Talented, hardworking editors who have a very personal stake in their authors' novels -- not only because they've fallen in love with the author's story and have gone on to acquire it for their publishing house, but because they've invested time and effort to make the project the best it can be.

"An author is in a very large forest," New York Times bestselling thriller author Gayle Lynds once said, commenting on the role her St. Martin's editor Keith Kahla plays in her writing. "It's hard to see the trees. If you're not in the hands of an expert editor, you really can go wrong in a lot of different ways."

In an interview in Poets & Writers, Algonquin Executive Editor Chuck Adams reveals his passion for working with authors:

I'm not a shy editor. I edit in ink, and I just sit down as a reader. I start reading, and when I come to a word or whatever that makes me stop, then I think, "Okay, there's a problem." Because any time a reader stops -- whether it's because they didn't understand something, or the word is an odd choice and it throws them off, or a character does something slightly out of character -- then you have to stop and say, "This is a problem. How do we fix it?"

My ideal author would be one who is anxious -- not just willing -- but anxious to work with me. I don't mean me, Chuck Adams. I mean me, the editor. Someone who understands that, while they are happy with what they've done, there may be room for improvement. They're open to listening to my suggestions and, once I have shared my wisdom with them, they do something with it.

Adam's most successful acquisition for Algonquin Books is Sara Gruen's Water For Elephants.

"I started reading it and immediately just loved it," he says. "I gave a copy to Ina Stern, our associate publisher, on a Friday. We both came in on Monday and went, 'Oh my God! We have to have this book.' It was the first and, with the exception of one other book I've brought in, the only time that every editor here and the publisher said, 'We have to have this book.'"

Amy Einhorn, Publisher and Vice President of Amy Einhorn Books, shows a similar passion. Einhorn's first acquisition for the her imprint was a manuscript about Mississippi housemaids in the '60s by a then-unknown writer named Kathryn Stockett.

According to an article in Gotham Magazine, the manuscript "landed on her desk after having been turned down by 60 agents. The Help subsequently sold 10 million copies and was turned into an Academy Award-winning movie."

"When I called Kathryn to tell her I liked the book, she asked me if I'd really read all of it," recalls Einhorn. "I didn't know about all the rejections, but it really wouldn't have mattered... The voice that reflects your own sparks the most passion. If the others had taken The Help, who knows if they would have had the passion to turn it into a best seller?"

As the publishing world continues to evolve, the need for talented editors like Adams and Einhorn will remain.

"You can't pay for that kind of input," says Gayle Lynds. "Editors have a real gift."


Amy Einhorn and Chuck Adams will be teaching at the Salt Cay Writers Retreat October 20-26 on a private island in the Bahamas. The retreat offers a unique opportunity for published and not-yet-published writers to work one-on-one with New York Times bestselling authors, top acquisition editors, and prominent literary agents in a gorgeous and inspiring setting.