The Art of Writing: Editor vs. Author

In today’s modern tech-driven culture, it might seem like image-based media, from Netflix to Instagram, dominates the information people consume. However, the written word still plays a major role in shaping modern culture, news, and entertainment — more so than ever, in fact. With more media formats available, a broader selection of written content needs to be created. Possibilities include traditional print books and e-books, social media and blogs, website content, and even the scripts that go into making television shows and movies. Individuals who enjoy working with the written word thus have more opportunities at their fingertips than in the past.

An author at work.

Regardless of the format, such written materials rely on the expertise of two specialized professionals for their creation: the editor and the author. Both are integral to the creation of texts, but their roles in the creative process differ greatly. Editor vs. author: This article will explore the differences between the two roles and define the unique skills needed for each. It will also explain how individuals with a love for the written word can transform their passion into a rewarding career with a bachelor’s degree in English.

The Differences: Editor vs. Author

Both editors and authors work with the written word and must have an exceptional mastery of the language they work in, including vocabulary and grammar. While writers create texts, however, editors polish them. Some editors start their careers as writers. After gaining experience that hones their writing talents, they are better able to spot areas in need of improvement. Mistakes they address could range from adding a missing comma to swapping out one word for a more appropriate one to restructuring a text so it flows better.

The diversity of editorial tasks is broad, and editors might even specialize in certain jobs. For instance, a developmental editor focuses on structure and content, and will help shape and guide the writing process. A copy editor, on the other hand, works with a complete written product, ensuring it is free of errors and improving it for accuracy and readability.

Editors polish a written product, which must first be created. They work on texts created by authors or writers. An author conceptualizes, develops, and writes books (print or digital). A writer may work with any number of formats, from newspaper articles to website content and social media blurbs. While authors generally work autonomously, originating their own story ideas, writers tend to work from a brief previously specified by a client.

Both authors and writers have an enormous selection when it comes to what they write about. Authors may write fiction or nonfiction. If they write fiction, they could write romance, science fiction, or young adult literature, to name just a few options. If they write nonfiction, they may specialize in a variety of fields, from personal finance to dietary health. Writers tend to work in nonfiction and can likewise cover all manner of topics falling under this umbrella. Some writers and authors find a specialty, while others prefer to remain generalists and work across a range of areas instead of specializing in just one.

The Role of an Editor

Whether it’s a blog post on a website or a novel, most of the published written products that people encounter in their daily lives have been polished by an editor. The editor is the last line of defense in determining that a text is ready to be published or made public. Just what makes a text “ready” depends in part on the format — for instance, a blog post might rely on short sentences and to-the-point language while a novel might use longer sentences and more descriptive, flowery speech. Deciding what is appropriate based on the media format, its audience, and its purpose is also part of the editor’s job. These experts don’t just proofread for errors in spelling or grammar but also make decisions on content (what to include and what to cut) and style.

Editors need the following skills:

  • Language: A thorough grasp of the English language is the pillar of the editor’s profession. They must be able to quickly and confidently determine whether a sentence is grammatically correct, sometimes under intense deadline pressure. Editors become more adept at spotting grammatical errors with practice.
  • Research: An editor must also ensure that all work that crosses their desk is factually correct and current. This may involve additional research as they review a text. Usually, editors focus on specific industries, such as medicine or education, allowing them to stay up to date on a particular field of expertise.
  • Understanding of Target Audiences: The editor’s overarching goal is to assure ease of consumption for the person who ends up reading the text. The editor thus needs to be aware of the text’s readability and be able to pinpoint issues that would impede the reader’s understanding.
  • Organizational and Management Ability: Editors must ensure writing is submitted on time and edited according to a deadline, often juggling multiple projects at once. They must also coordinate and liaise with the different writers they work with, both face-to-face and via technology such as email.

The Role of an Author

Authors and writers may cover a diverse set of topics. If they choose to focus on a certain area, then they will usually build up a portfolio of work specifically covering that subject. Regardless of whether they remain generalists or choose a targeted topic to tackle, all authors and writers must share a few key skills and competencies if they are to succeed.

Authors need the following skills to do their jobs:

  • Communication: In addition to having skill with the written word and above-average competency with the English language, authors must know how to connect with their audience. Communication skills allow them to provide relevant messages in a compelling way that captivates readers’ interest. The role of an author is often public-facing, and they must be able to network with other writers as well as editors, publishers, and literary agents. In addition, authors may be expected to market themselves and their work. Thus, they may be required to interact with the public through such means as book signings and maintaining a social media presence.
  • Research: Before they can write about a topic, authors must establish a thorough knowledge of that topic themselves. Even those who specialize in a single field must keep up through research. No discipline is stagnant, and there will always be something new to learn. Research skills let authors stay abreast of updates.
  • Organization: Authors must be organized on many levels. For individual projects, they must keep track of their research, ensure a cohesive narrative, and stay on top of deadlines. If they work on multiple projects at once, they must maintain this high level of organization for all of them.
  • Discipline: Since writing is a solitary endeavor, authors operate on their own time, working outside of traditional office spaces. Discipline is required for them to manage their time and stay on track while they work. Writers may work in an office setting or on a freelance basis. They must meet deadlines in accordance with client expectations and manage their time accordingly.

Career Outlook for Writing and Editing

According to 2018 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay of an editor is $59,480 per year while the median pay of an author or writer is $62,170 per year. But these numbers don’t tell the entire story — becoming a successful author is extremely difficult, as an author must first be able to get his or her work published. Once published, an author’s income depends heavily upon how well his or her publication sells. Authors may earn much more depending on the popularity and success of their work; if they write books that sell widely, their income can exceed six figures. These competitive fields are attractive to many people; the BLS notes that authors, in particular, can expect strong competition due to the fact that many people find this an attractive profession. This makes a thorough education that provides professionals with the skills they need to excel in the field all the more important.

Why Studying English Is a Good Investment for Editors and Authors

Individuals interested in becoming an author or editor can hone their abilities with an online Bachelor of Arts in English from Maryville University. This degree provides in-depth training in skills essential to these roles, offering coursework such as Writing Across the Disciplines and Creative Writing. In addition to practicing their own writing, students learn from some of the best scribes in the field thanks to literature survey courses such as Shakespeare and Survey of Women’s Lit. Engaging with these texts also provides the opportunity to practice critical thinking and research skills. Students in the online bachelor’s in English program can also customize their degrees with a minor in a field such as business, communication, or education.

The Maryville University program focuses on producing graduates who are ready to enter the workforce. Students can complete an internship that goes toward their bachelor’s degree and gives them their first real-world experience while still in school. This will make them more appealing in the eyes of employers upon graduation and can result in higher-paying positions. Whether editor or author, the pathway to either position will be easier with knowledge and experience gained from a B.A. in English.

Recommended Reading

How Technological Advancements Will Shape the Future of Journalism

Online Liberal Arts Degrees

What Is an English Major: A Foundation for Careers in New Media


Book Machine, “The Top 5 Skills an Editor Needs”

Constant Content, “10 Skills Every Great Content Writer Needs”

Forbes, “How to Become a Successful Author”

National Public Radio, “What Exactly Does an Editor Do? The Role Has Changed Over Time”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Editors

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Writers and Authors

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