If you've ever wondered exactly what an editor does, you're not alone.
The art of writing a book and the business of publishing are distinctly different animals; when turning a writer's manuscript into a product, there's not a whole lot of loving emotion going around. It's a whole lot of cold hard business, albeit done with the care and devotion of people who love books.
Which is why working as an editor is such an interesting experience. An editor must love the book as the author does, but also understand the industry and the market in a business sense. They have to speak the language of the author, the publisher, and the reader, all at the same time.
I'm currently reading What Editors Do: The Art, Craft & Business of Book Editing, and Peter Ginna puts it perfectly:
To edit a manuscript effectively, you must put yourself in the shoes of someone who's picking up the book with no prior knowledge of the author or the project's history. At the same time, you must grasp what the writer is trying to accomplish in the book; sometimes this will be more evident to you than to the author. And to publish a book well, you must combine that understanding of the author's vision with your knowledge of the marketplace—of what readers are looking for and how they find it.
So if editors at times have trouble explaining something, give them some slack. It's usually because they're considering your question from at least three different perspectives, and thinking about the consequences of decisions on each.
Send me your questions about editing and the publishing industry, I'd love to answer them!