Most authors value the role of the editor and the relationship is important. It needs to be a close relationship as it is often a long-term one. Therefore, building a sense of trust and mutual respect is necessary if the relationship is to be effective. For example, the author has to trust that the editor will retain the author’s voice, and will act in the author’s best interest as a sounding board for making the work more accessible for readers. If this understanding is present, the basis of a good relationship is established.

So, how should an editor approach dealing with an author? The suggestion is that it is a good idea to meet with an author whilst a manuscript is still in the planning stage. It suggests the editor brief the author on:

  • house style
  • how the publisher wants the manuscript prepared
  • the direction of the plot and argument
  • illustration issues
  • the cover and so on.

Once a manuscript is received, issues of changes or problems should be dealt with before any actual editing is done. Stress the positive aspects first, phrase possible questions as suggestions, and give detailed reasons for any changes requested.

Usually, it is preferable for an author to do the revisions. The Style Guide suggests that major structural changes or rewriting requirements should be confirmed with an author in writing. However, some writers find revision work difficult, and sometimes the deadlines may be too tight to allow for this. The editor may, therefore, have to take on this task.

Important in the relationship is that an editor is able to be flexible, negotiate positively, and recognise that the job is not one of rewriting. On the author’s part, the ability to accept constructive criticism and suggestions is a valuable personal quality to bring to the relationship.

The terms ‘editor’ and ‘editing’ cover a wide range of positions and activities. All written material requires editing: from Hansard Reports to poetry anthologies, from junk mail to scientific articles, from the great Australian novel to the company annual report. An incident quoted in English Today, shows the importance of editing. A teacher of English noted the following on the label of a sauce bottle:

Its’ unique tangy blend of herbs and spices bring out the natural taste of steak.

When the two errors – its’ and bring were brought to the notice of the company concerned, the teacher received a letter in reply stating that the firm was ‘re-designing the label with new verbiage’ [sic]. Verbiage, of course, means the excessive and often meaningless use of words. Both the label and the letter needed editing.