Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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July 3, 2024

The Editor or the Author: Who's In Charge?

An opinion on successful editor-author relationships

by David Lombardino

Writer and editor collaborating on a story

I hear the stories all the time: authors jaded by a traumatic experience with an editor and editors frustrated by authors who won’t listen to them. The authors lose confidence in themselves or, worse, abandon the desire to pursue their writing dreams. The editors lose work and reputation. Isn’t there a better way? Aren’t there editor–author relationships where both get what they want?

If you are an author, how do you get this kind of relationship? If you are an editor, how do you get it?


Nothing is more enriching or empowering as an author than having an editor who supports and encourages you and provides valuable insight and guidance in the pursuit of your vision. Behind all the world’s most successful authors, no matter how you define “successful,” is one or more editor who has performed this role.

But how do you find such an editor or develop such a relationship with one?

Different Editors Have Different Skillsets and Personalities

In the same way different editors have different personalities, different editors possess different skillsets. An editor who is great with evaluation and development of a story or manuscript may not be a great copyeditor with an eye for syntax or phrasing, or a great proofreader who can catch every missed comma.

So the first question is: What type of editor do I need?

How to Find a Great Proofreader

If you need a proofreader, you want someone who has a keen eye for detail and knows grammar and punctuation, as well as any style guide requirements. You want someone who can find and correct every error with a high degree of accuracy. You want someone who will be right and knows they are right.

Such an editor makes for a great proofreader and should be the type of editor you consider for a proofreading role. But someone who is used to being right all the time, and expects that authors view them that way as well, may not make a great developmental editor or copyeditor.

How to Find a Great Developmental Editor

A great developmental editor has, perhaps, the opposite personality of a great proofreader. A great developmental editor starts with listening to the author and asking questions. What are your goals for your book? Do you wish to sell as many books as possible, and are you willing to make any changes to the story to achieve that? Or are there certain changes you wouldn’t be willing to make, say to a character or a particular plot point? The best developmental editors will listen to your goals and give you recommendations and guidance within that perspective.

So when looking for a developmental editor, start by meeting with them and having a conversation. Pay attention during it. Do they listen to you? Can they tailor their suggestions and advice according to your particular goals for your book while respecting what you’re willing and not willing to change about the story? Do they accept your feedback regarding what type of help you would find most valuable? Can they be a reliable partner?

How to Find a Great Copyeditor/Line Editor

A great copyeditor/line editor falls between a proofreader and a developmental editor in terms of both skillset and desired personality. Since a copyeditor’s role includes correcting errors in syntax, grammar and punctuation, you want them to have the proofreader’s mindset I described above. But since their role also includes changes to wording or phrasing that could affect tone, voice and writing style, you also want them to have the developmental editor’s mindset.

The question is: Can you find both in the same person?

Signs You Have the Wrong Editor

Depending on the editor’s role, you can identify some signs before hiring the wrong editor. If you need proofreading done, and the editor you are considering has a personality more like that of a developmental editor, one who wishes to build a relationship with you before starting the work, this may indicate they are not as skilled in proofreading as you would want. They may not provide the quality of work you should expect from a proofreader.

And the opposite is true. If you need developmental editing, and the editor thinks they can just jump right in without getting to know you and your goals for your book first, you will likely find the experience to be an unfulfilling, frustrating and misdirected one. How can they give the right advice if they haven’t taken the time to get to know you and your goals?

For copyeditors/line editors, take an approach in between. Do they exhibit a strong understanding of grammar and punctuation while being approachable to talk to? Are they well-versed in the relevant style guide while remaining flexible to align their approach with your goals?


Don’t worry. I’ve been there. I’ve seen changes that would strengthen my client’s writing, but they still don’t want to accept my recommendations. What do you do?

The comparison I like to give is it’s like if you were a doctor. Someone comes to you with a stomachache and asks what they can do to resolve it. With all your training and experience, you see right away what is causing the pain and write a prescription for a medication you know will take care of it. You give the prescription to the patient, and the patient leaves your office.

At this point, you have done your job and done it well. It is up to the patient to decide whether to have that prescription filled and to take it according to your instructions.

Tips by Editor Type

If you are a proofreader, you make all the corrections you see need to be made. You do so with tracked changes, and the writer has the responsibility to accept them.

If you are a developmental editor, none of the necessary improvements you recommend will bring any value to the author if you have not taken the time to ensure your advice is the type they want to receive. Like addressing the patient with the stomachache, who may also have a scratch on their leg that needs attention, start by telling them about what would cure their stomachache. You can ask them about the scratch, too, but avoid simply telling them how to fix it without treating their primary need first.

As odd it may seem, they may be completely fine with the scratch on their leg. Jumping in to tell them about it without addressing their main concern will likely cause them to get defensive and think you haven’t listened to what they want.

If you are a copyeditor/line editor, look to strike a balance between the above. Know what rules in writing cannot be broken, and with the rest, allow yourself to be flexible within the author’s goals for their book.

And even with rules that cannot be broken, be open to the possibility that, in the right circumstances, they can.

* * * * * *

About David

David Lombardino

David Lombardino started his career in 2001 as an editor for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) headquarters in Paris, France, while pursuing his passion for writing fiction, publishing short stories in literary journals The Helix, Sonora Review and Soundings East. He returned to the U.S. in 2008 to found a premier editing and proofreading company, and thus began DLA Editors & Proofers.

Chosen for their collaborative mindset and genuine desire to see each of their authors succeed, DLA’s book editors’ expertise spans a wide range of fiction and nonfiction genres. DLA clients are equally diverse, from novice to seasoned writers, from self-published writers to best-selling authors, and everything in between.

DLA’s book editing services include manuscript evaluation, developmental editing, copyediting and proofreading.

When he’s not busy championing the successes of DLA’s editors and authors, David enjoys photography, volunteering at the Houston Food Bank and spending time with his wife and daughter.

Top image purchased from Depositphotos.

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8 comments on “The Editor or the Author: Who's In Charge?”

  1. Great advice, David. The questions you suggest authors should ask are spot on. And the stomachache and scratch analogy is the perfect reminder for editors. I'll be sharing this.

  2. Ultimately, it's the author's story, so that's who has final say. Or SHOULD have final say. I find it alarming how many editors demand changes to a story that actually prove detrimental to the author's work, and how often authors submit to those demands without considering how harmful they are. They insist of rewriting the entire story the way THEY would've written it, instead of honoring the author's own style, voice, and story. (Those are the editors who tend to make authors want to quit. I've helped clean up the aftermath of those devastations.)

    On the flipside, I've seen authors get defensive and reject changes that would actually strengthen their work, instead of taking time to simply think about what the editor told them. The ones that get me are those who hire editors and then reject or want to argue over every recommendation, no matter what it is or how minor it might be. If they're not actually going to accept ANY feedback, why waste either their time or the editor's?

    When I do developmental editing for others, I flag things that aren't working FOR ME, explain why, and leave it to the author to figure out which feedback they take. THEY know their story and characters better than I do. They know where the story is headed.

    As an author, I expect the same respect from my editor. I also don't just knee-jerk reject feedback I don't like. My primary editor is in a different part of the country, so we've run into cultural clashes. Communication styles vary from region to region, sometimes in profound ways, as does language. Most often when something strikes her wrong, I've found I simply need to double check the particular words I used. Most often, it's as simple as changing a single word, or it can mean adding a sentence or two to DPOV to better show what's going on in the character's head. It's amazing what a difference a small change can make.

    When it comes down to it, this isn't really all that simple. There are some profoundly bad editors out there (they know how to do great sample edits, which hides how bad they really are), and there are some remarkably thin-skinned, rigid authors out there who won't accept feedback on so much as a comma. Neither play well with others.

    A good editor is worth their weight in gold, as far as I'm concerned, but so is an author who actually thinks instead of reacts.

  3. I believe the doctor/patient comparison is pretty accurate. All an editor can truly do is be a guide.

    I've worked with wonderful and not so wonderful editors. The best developmental editors being those who took a bit of time to understand where I was coming from and hoped to go.

    I have home-based grammar police, which helps a lot. 😁

  4. This is all fantastic. But what happens when you find yourself in need of a combination of these? Working with a holistic editor is also a fascinating experience...

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