#SaystheEditor The Morality Police



I belong to a number of editor groups at this point in time. I usually lurk, but wound up following a thread the other day.

…there were other places that seemed homophobic to me, which is not something young people should read


not something young people should read

You were hired to EDIT a work of fiction. You were not hired to interpret the content. You were not hired to be the morality police.

You were hired to perform a job. You were not hired to overlay your views, beliefs, and politics over someone else’s work or vision.

If you have a problem with it, yes, bring it to the author or publisher.

But to make a blanket statement about what people should and should not read?


You are not the acquiring editor, who (in this case) has paid the author an advance against royalties for the work. One presumes they have approved the content and have seen this content that is not something young people should read. Clearly, the acquiring editor, on behalf of the publisher, does not agree!


I once edited a book, helping get the third book in a trilogy ready for submission to an acquiring editor who had already bought the first two, and the storyline stretched plausibility. I said to the author, “This is problematic to me. I have trouble buying that a person in this profession would act in this way.”

“But this is my life,” she huffed back.

“I get that,” I said. “But sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction and I’m concerned this won’t go over well with your publisher or the audience you’ve built.”

Her publisher refused to publish the book. For the exact reason I’d raised. The trilogy was never completed and remains a two-book series.

So what’s the difference here?

Easy. I won’t make a judgement about what should or should not be read by the public.

This other freelance editor did exactly that. And that bothers me.

She wasn’t hired to be the morality police. She was hired to interact with a text and make it better.

Maybe making it better means flagging the material that she finds inappropriate. (But let’s face it: if she was hired to do a straight grammar check, then no, she wasn’t hired to flag material that offends her. She was hired to make sure the grammar is correct. Nothing more.) But more to the point, it means swallowing your sensibilities and approaching the work as a professional would do. Is this in context? Is it realistic that this character thinks/feels/acts this way? Does it advance the storyline? Does it let the reader have a better/different/illuminating glimpse of the character? Does it help shape the way the reader interacts with the text, in the way that the author has indicated via other parts of the text?

That’s what an editor does.

Freelance editors are not here to be the morality police and tell the world what they should and should not read. They are only here to make the work of fiction in front of them shine. Go ahead and challenge the author. “Is this what you mean to say? Do you see how it can be taken the wrong way? Are you prepared if it is?”

Save the blanket statements. Tuck the morality police away.

Do the job you were hired for, which is to make a book shine. Not to judge what a segment of the reading population should and should not be exposed to.


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