My previous post discussed the problem publishers are facing with Amazon’s stepping into the role of book publisher rather than just bookseller. On October 17, 2011, one New York Times front page headline read “Amazon Signing Up Authors, Writing Publishers Out of Deal.”

Read a bit further into the article and one discovers that Amazon isn’t talking about the number of editors it is employing (if any). One also discovers that Russell Grandinetti, a top Amazon executive, says, “The only really necessary people in the publishing process now are the writer and reader. Everyone who stands between those two has both risk and opportunity.” Note no mention of editors.

So where does the professional editor stand? To paraphrase an editorial colleague, Amazon pays editors as if the editor lived in a third-world country. The truth of the matter is that the ground is shifting yet again for professional editors.

The standard practice for many editors has been to try to work either in-house or freelance for publishers. We have seen many of those jobs disappear as publishers have found it cheaper to outsource editorial tasks, and the globalization of our profession has caused a lowering of wages. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is forecasting no growth in jobs for the editorial profession for the next decade but a significant increase in competition for what jobs exist.

I don’t have the magic bullet that will cure this problem, but I do have an observation. When I discuss book buying with editorial colleagues, the standard response is that they buy from Amazon. It is like feeding the mouth that bites you. Because we can save a dollar or two, we buy from Amazon. Perhaps that isn’t such a smart idea as it reinforces Amazon’s belief that it is right.

I recognize that many of the books professional editors need are not inexpensive. I also recognize that professional editors probably read more books for pleasure in the course of a year than does the average reader. And I recognize that each dollar saved counts. But perhaps when it comes to Amazon, this is wrong thinking. Amazon is not my friend.

It is important to note what the Amazon model is: a willingness to have very thin margins. Thin margins do not leave a lot of money to be spent on what is considered an intangible, such as editing. I do not expect to suddenly see a rash of jobs for freelance editors at decent pay spring forth from the bowels of Amazon.

We editors can follow the path of publishers; that is, we can shake our heads in worry, wring our hands, and do nothing for fear of what effect our doing something might have on our future. But our future is already insecure.

Everything we have traditionally seen and done as professional editors is changing. I expect that in a few years the only editors still able to get work from publishers will be those in groups, not solo editors. This will be a fundamental change in how editorial work has been done.

An even more fundamental shift that I expect to see is that increasingly less work will come from publishers and the burden of hiring an editor will fall on the author. Should that occur, it will be disastrous for the author, for the editor, and for the reader. Experience so far with authors is that few are willing to invest the necessary resources for professional editing in the absence of pressure from a third party, such as pressure from a peer-reviewed journal. The gamble is too great and the value of editorial services is too ephemeral, not readily seen.

As I wrote earlier, I have no panacea for the troubles the editorial world will shortly begin facing. We didn’t face the original offshoring of the early 2000s very well, so I expect we won’t face these changes well either.

Yet one thing is certain: Editors who continue to buy from Amazon are only helping to bury themselves. Perhaps supporting Amazon is not the smartest idea editors have ever had and one that should be rethought.

Via An American Editor


  1. Perhaps it will become an expense of the author to ensure that editing is completed by an accomplished and knowledgeable editor, similar to what many self-published authors are doing now. After all, if a book is poorly edited (or poorly written) I would presume it would sell poorly and reflect badly on the author. In this new model, it may be up to the author to ensure their name is not tarnished by putting out a bad book. I know I for one do not buy books from an author if the first book (or subsequent books) I read from them is riddled with errors, or poorly written.

  2. Rethink — “supporting Amazon”? Like, if all the editors in America boycott Amazon, that would keep legacy publishers in business? Please. I expect the coach builders and farriers a century ago said “We shouldn’t support this Henry Ford fellow,” but if they did, that didn’t have much effect.

    After many decades as gatekeepers, editors are starting to understand their only genuinely valuable contribution to the reader-writer relationship amounts to day labor. When the book is edited, your role ceases. It’s understandable you might regard your traditional Ancien-Regime role as so significant that, after you’re ousted, chaos must ensue. But your power always depended on financial and technological externalities that are finally dwindling away. You can’t stop that kind of change with a boycott.

  3. But if the books you buy are cheaper, then you don’t need to be paid as much in order to read the same number of books. Cheaper books leads to more people in low wage countries being able to afford them, leading to higher education for the world in general, which can only be a good thing. Flattening of wages on a global scale is a good thing – although it’s a complex global social issue, and not without pain in the short to medium term (my wife is an Editor for a major publisher). Editorial jobs may be down, but I have a feeling translation jobs are up? Living somewhere cheaper and telecommuting is an option for some (and better for the environment).

    But also, I think the web can help authors find good editors. It also helps readers find out which books are well edited before they buy them. I really don’t feel that good editing is intangible for many people. Certainly if I went to Amazon to buy a book and saw 2 interesting titles and one was rated by 100 people as being full or errors etc. and the other one was rated as being well edited, guess which one would get my money?

  4. I’m not sure the situation is that simple or that scary. Many self-published authors have their work edited before they publish; why wouldn’t they in the case of Amazon? Absolutely, you’ll have a lot of wannabe authors who don’t understand the value of editing or design or promotion or… In short, they don’t understand the publishing business. Either they will learn and discover what’s necessary and what’s not or they will fail to sell books.

    Those authors who come to understand the value editing adds to their book will find an editor. Maybe they’ll use Amazon’s, hiring editors will or needing to work for lower wages. Doing so will help editors who are just starting out or whose skills aren’t as good as they could be. Maybe they’ll have the editing done before publishing with Amazon, just as many DIY and self-publishing authors do.

    Although I’ve edited books, I’ve never worked for a publisher. Why? I’ve heard too many horror stories about dismal pay (book publishers generally pay less than newspapers, and that’s scary), ludicrously short turnaround times for quality work, and never getting paid. I’d much rather work for an author who values his work enough to hire an expert to shore up his work and to pay for it.

    You want to sell books? You have to invest in your book: your time, talent, and treasure. Buy cheap, get cheap.

  5. So do we really know if Amazon isn’t putting their new titles through the editing process? Connie Brockway’s book for their romance line is edited by Alex Carr according to various articles on the web which would seem to say that editors are being employed in the publishing process.

    Of course a bunch of the titles being put out don’t really need full blown editing because they’re previously published titles like the 47 books they’re putting out by Ed McBain.

    From what I can tell Amazon has said very little about their publishing business other than vague comments here and there about building an editorial staff. One quote from Russell Grandinetti (do we even know how much if anything he has to do with Amazon Publishing) doesn’t necessarily spell doom and gloom.

  6. Hi all,
    My manuscript for THE OTHER GUY’S BRIDE went through exactly the same editing process as all of twenty-two of my traditionally published books: initial edit by Charlotte Herscher, then copy edited, and finally proofs edited.

    Hope this helps elucidates matters,

    Connie Brockway

  7. Hello everyone–

    Similar to Connie, my manuscript, IN HER SIGHTS, went through an initial edit with Charlotte Herscher followed by copy edits and finally proof edits. I found everyone extremely helpful and I believe their contributions really improved my book.

    Hope that confirms the process,


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