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About Writing Right: The Blog


I get asked this question periodically, and my answer is always the same.


No. Period. End of story.


In fact, no great editor has ever been behind a great writer (except, perhaps, by chance) because great writers don't' require them. Here's what I mean.


First, "great" editors don't grow on trees. After producing more than ninety conventionally published books, each one being assigned at least one editor and usually more, and after studying editing and working as a professional editor myself for decades, I can't count a single other editor I thought was great. Not those working for me, and not those working for the publishers who assigned their editors to check my work. Some editors I've known were far better than others, you understand. But not one contributed meaningfully, or transformationally, to my work or any great writer's work of which I familiar. Why would he have to? If a work is great, it's not going to need a "great editor" to make it even greater! And if it's not great, its author isn't great.


That's not to say no editors ever improve the work they tackle. Most do. By pointing out little things along the way, all of which (as all "great" writers know) add up to a better finished product.


But the notion that a great editor helped "make" a writer great? I suppose it's possible in some unique cases (Hemingway comes immediately to mind). But, even in those cases, you couldn't say the writer was "great" until after the editor worked on the writer's books. How can a great writer turn out literary junk? And, if it takes a great editor to convert a pile of garbage into a praiseworthy book, which one is really great--the author or the editor? See what I mean?


So, if you'd asked more correctly, "Has every mediocre or even poor writer who made it to greatness had a great editor behind him?" I would have responded differently. Most mediocre authors who break the NYT bestseller list had great, or at least really good, editors. Or marketers. Or subjects. Or all of the above.


Are we clear? Good. Not great, you understand. Just … good.


Smoke if you've got 'em.

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D. J. Herda is author of the new series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available in eBook, paperback, and hardcover formats at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere. You can check out his weekly column, "The Author-Ethicist," at Substack.com.

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