Why the End of Editors in Digital Publishing is a Mistake

In Guest Contributors by Guest Contributor


John Pettigrew argues editors—those who turn mediocre books into great ones—are even more important in the digital age of content proliferation.

By John Pettigrew

John Pettigrew

John Pettigrew

“Editor” has probably been the most common job title in publishing, but we’re increasingly an endangered species. Publishers are eliminating editors in favor of project managers, content coordinators, digital gurus, etc. – and, of course, an army of freelancers.

This is a profound mistake, one that could lead to the end of publishing as we currently understand it – although, ironically, it would hardly mean the end of the editor.

Discover and Improve

Some people (sadly including many senior managers) think that editors just fiddle with the commas and run a spell-check. And, let’s face it, those tasks are pretty routine these days. After all, Microsoft Word has spell-check and even grammar covered.

The role of the editor is actually to find and improve books, ready for publication. ‘Finding’ can mean anything from literally stumbling across a manuscript to months of work researching a market, selecting and briefing an author, and generally shaping a book to hit a particular niche. (Lisa Edwards wrote a great article about this recently).

A skilled editor will turn a mediocre book into a good one, and a good book into a great one. Most authors value their editors highly as a result, because we make them look better.

Show Me the Money

As the amount of content (on the web, in print, wherever) increases relentlessly, and the price of that content trends ever downwards, what do publishers offer their readers?

Readers come to publishers for a reliable source of content they need or enjoy. That’s what ‘brand’ means for a publisher!

If I want to read a novel, I don’t want to spend an hour winnowing a pile of dross for one gem. If I’m a teacher, I probably don’t even have five minutes to glean through YouTube for vaguely appropriate lesson content.

Sensible authors seek out good editors. At the moment, the best way to do that (for most) is to work with a publisher. Insofar as publishers fail to provide their authors with this support, they’re fundamentally failing, and will drive more and more authors away. This is why I believe that the future for editors themselves is rosy – we’ll always be needed, even if it’s operating as freelancers through networks like Reedsy or Bibliocrunch.

Focus to Survive

If publishing companies are to maintain any relevance to our readers in the coming decade, we must consistently deliver content that will delight them. And, in particular, content that they will pay for.

Fortunately, we still have the editors, whose entire purpose is to find and refine such content. Sales and Marketing can help identify markets. They can push the end product hard and skillfully. But if the middle portion – the editor’s portion – isn’t right then they will fail.

It’s often said that we work in publishing because we love stories and content. If that’s true, why wouldn’t we want our books to be the best they can be?

Why wouldn’t we value our editors?

John Pettigrew is CEO and Founder of Cambridge Publishing Solutions, and created Futureproofs to make editors’ lives better. Futureproofs was launched at the Frankfurt Book Fair and was shortlisted for a Futurebook Award for Best Tech Innovation 2014.

About the Author

Guest Contributor

Guest contributors to Publishing Perspectives have diverse backgrounds in publishing, media and technology. They live across the globe and bring unique, first-hand experience to their writing.