Fiction editor and bathroom installer…not so different after all

Those who know me on Facebook will be aware of the recent bathroom installation carried out at my house. It took a little longer than expected, due to a delay caused by the plumber’s van breaking down on the very first day. Eventually, all went well and everyone was pleased with the result.

I had been concerned that I wouldn’t get much work done due to the general noise and disturbance; usually, I work in complete silence, but I somehow found the ability to shut everything out around me for short periods of time, and so I was reasonably productive.

One day, the plumber (clearly intrigued as to why I spent most of my day glued to a chair staring at a computer monitor, pulling strange faces, talking to myself, and drumming away on a keyboard) asked me what I did for a living. I considered a range of glamorous responses, but finally admitted to being a freelance editor of fiction. After I had explained what this entailed, he nodded sagely and then went about his work.

The next time we spoke, some hours later, he said: ‘So the writer gets all the praise and you don’t get any.’

Astute thinking on his part. After consideration, I replied, ‘Yes, I guess it’s the same for you, then.’

That might have sounded like a snide reprisal, but it wasn’t meant that way. I had drawn several parallels between our respective jobs. We were both ‘fixing and fitting’ something that was somebody else’s original creation. We had no involvement at its conception and we wouldn’t benefit directly as a result of its completion (other than being paid for doing the job). We were simply working to a plan and a procedure for a paying customer. I’d be no more likely to see the words ‘This work of fiction was meticulously edited by Sue Shade’ within the prelim pages of a published novel I had worked on than the plumber would see a plaque on a bathroom wall bearing the inscription ‘This installation was painstakingly carried out by Lenny Atwell’.

(Name changed for privacy…apologies to any Lenny Atwells out there!)

Later, came the plumber’s riposte: ‘At least a visitor to your bathroom is more likely to ask who carried out the work.’

Ouch. ‘But, there’s potential for my client’s novel to be read worldwide…’


For any completed work of creation, third-party involvement is generally taken for granted, so this is a thumbs-up from me to all those – editors and bathroom fitters included – who slog tirelessly behind the scenes to turn someone else’s dreams into reality, but who aren’t directly recognised for doing so. 🙂