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What is a Fiction Editor?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 27 November 2016
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A fiction editor is a publishing industry professional who prepares works of fiction for publication. Fiction editors can work with short stories, novellas, novels, and full-length books. They may choose to focus on specific genres, such as young adult literature, works in translation, science fiction, romance novels, and so forth. A career as an editor for fiction and other types of writing requires a sharp eye for detail, excellent communication skills, familiarity with spelling and grammar rules, and a knowledge of writing conventions and traditions.

Some fiction editors work for publishing houses. Publishing houses may opt to assign editors to specific writers, so that writers can establish a relationship with a specific fiction editor and maintain that relationship throughout their careers. In other cases, editors are assigned to books as they come under contract, and a writer may work with many editors at the same publishing house. Fiction editors can also work independently or as part of a writing agency.

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Editing books is about much more than identifying spelling and grammar errors and making the text consistent in nature. A fiction editor helps the writer make decisions about plotting and storylining, how to present information, formatting, and word choice. Fiction editors can also provide advice and recommendations on how to make a book stronger and more accessible to readers. A writer may produce a technically perfect book that lacks a spark to compel readers, and the fiction editor will work with the writer to develop the book more fully.

Fiction editors also consider their audiences. Publishing houses may have specific content standards and other concerns for the books they accept and editors are responsible for identifying questionable or problematic content and addressing it. The input of a fiction editor may sometimes result in substantial revisions. While publishing houses have separate legal departments tasked with reviewing books to seek out any content that might create legal problems, editors may also flag content for legal review or request review from consultants if a work of fiction contains content that arouses concern.

Many fiction editors start their careers in publishing houses or agencies and work their way up the ranks. They may assist working editors and agents with the basic review of submitted materials and are gradually granted more responsibilities over time as they develop skills and establish relationships with other editors and writers. Once someone has editing experience, that person can choose to continue with an existing employer or to apply elsewhere for different types of editing work or a new working environment.

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MrsPramm
Post 3

@pleonasm - It does depend on what you mean by editor though. There are definitely a lot of fiction editor jobs that are simply about checking the grammar and spelling, and don't go any further than that. Or they might involve helping with the storyline, but don't involve working on the fact checking, or the cover, or the blurb or anything else.

It depends on whether the author is with a big publishing house or not.

pleonasm
Post 2

@Ana1234 - I've heard that some authors basically need a stable of fact checkers and editors to make sure they don't have any continuity errors. The guy who writes the books for the Game of Thrones series, for example, has hundreds of named characters in his books and they all have histories and descriptions and previous interactions and so forth.

I suspect the editor also becomes the person who encourages the author to keep going when they are stuck on a book in a series. I know a lot of authors have had that problem. Douglas Adams, for example, had to have an assistant to keep him motivated, because otherwise he just wouldn't write. That assistant would have been hired by the editor.

Ana1234
Post 1

A decent fiction book editor is invaluable. No matter how good you are at writing, you need someone else to look at your work and make sure that you haven't missed anything.

I've heard stories about editors that have caught things like the fact that an author had killed off a particular character, only to reappear a few chapters later completely unharmed. And this is a professional author.

Novels are just so long and involved it's almost impossible to keep everything straight, particularly if you aren't spending years over it.

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