When new writers are first trying to get their work published it can very much seem as if editors are the enemy. As the rejections keep coming, often with no explanation at all, it can be very disheartening. It can also be extremely frustrating to watch other authors consistently publishing their work, when you never seem to get a break, or a leg up, or your foot inside the door. It is quite natural to feel a touch of envy from time to time, especially if you have been consistently sending out your work without success, but if this envy poisons your attitude towards the industry, editors will pick up on it.
The role of an editor is to preserve the quality of their publication or House, which means that they have to be very selective about who and what they accept for publication. They have to make sure the work they do accept will fit in with their overall list and that they don't have too many authors all writing similar things. This is one of the reasons why coat-tail hanging is ineffective - there is no point approaching the House of a particular author with a carefully copied and virtually identical style, or with a synopsis for a book that is similar to what they are already publishing. You are courting rejection if you attempt this.
For a short time my brother and I were writing for the same House, although the editors there were initially unaware that we were related. We were also writing on completely different topics, as you can see from the picture above; I was writing my popular Wicca titles, while he was writing a more mainstream self help title (Learn to Live Your Dream and Success Is Guaranteed by Ian Bruce). It is only by chance that we were writing for the same House at the same time, and I don't think this is a common practice within the publishing industry as a whole. But it did make for some interesting conversations and comparisons!
Being respectful to editors is of course basic courtesy, but it is also vital for your career prospects. It is possible for unpublished authors to get a negative reputation for themselves, simply because they cannot handle rejection without a petty comeback, or a whinging demand for an explanation. Editors don't owe you anything, unless you are one of their contracted authors and even then you are only one of many, so you need to be respectful of their time.
It is also true that editors network and move in the same circles, so if you get a bad name with one, you might find others automatically give you a wide birth. Like lots of upper and middle class occupations, word of mouth recommendations are a part of the publishing industry, but you generally have to wait to be invited into the fold before you can start to use nepotistic networks. Don't be fooled by an editor moving on to a new publication either - it is highly likely that you will meet them again at a different House or magazine, so you need to ensure your working relationships are positive ones from the very beginning. Try not to get your name black-listed by piggy-backing, over-entitlement or a bad attitude.
I have worked with editors from all kinds of backgrounds, from an old school working class 'cub reporter' who had steadily worked his way up the ranks of the newspaper, to the descendant of one of England's finest poets for whom publishing is literally in the blood. This diversity of background serves to enrich the industry as a whole, though there is no doubt that it is increasingly difficult for someone to get a foot in and learn 'on the job' as I did. In that respect I was quite lucky to get published when I did, because things have changed greatly in the past decade or so.
Working alongside editors is an education in itself. You are effectively working with highly skilled, highly educated, quite well-heeled people, especially if you work with London publishers. It is a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the art and craft of writing and how the industry works. You will pick up the lingo so that you can speak their language when you make submissions to magazines etc. You will be able to tell them exactly what you are offering - a feature, lead-feature, article, column, snippet, nib and so on - but you must get this accurate! Moreover, editorial polish rubs off and you will become much more refined in your day to day communications. Friends and family are likely to be the first to notice this and comment upon it.
So far from being the enemy of new writers, editors can be potential allies and referees. They might hold the door fast against you for quite some time, but if one day they swing it open and invite you in, be aware that you are joining a whole new world and give the opportunity the respect it deserves.