Five Writers Talk About Their Book Editors
It’s a fact of life for writers that at a certain point, beyond a personal blog, to reach a larger audience your work will need to be vetted or massaged or reshaped (or sometimes, rejected or violated) by an editor. In publishing houses, moreover, it’s generally the editor who serves as your advocate or at least liaison with the other departments (generally, production and sales/marketing); he or she is the person who not only introduces you to those who will eventually sell your book, but also has to make the case as to why they should care when they undoubtedly have many, many others vying for their attention. The editorial relationship is the most important one a writer has, at least within a publishing company (we refer here to agents), and for this reason can have disastrous results when it’s not working, which usually happens when an editor no longer feels good about an author or a writer no longer “trusts” an editor, either because initial expectations going into the relationship were not communicated (or met) or because the original editor leaves the company and the writer has been assigned to a new one who does not feel the same enthusiasm for the work. Some of these situations are beyond a writer’s control, but it’s still a good idea to think realistically about what you want or expect from your editor, with a thought to keep things running as smoothly as possible. To gain some insight into what writers should look for in editors and how best to “manage” the relationship, we asked Haven Kimmel, Calvin Baker, Emily Gould and Don Van Natta Jr. to answer some questions.
These questions were:
- Did you have meetings with more than one editor before you sold your manuscript or book proposal? If so, what qualities did you look for in the editor when you first met? (And did these qualities turn out to be more or less important than you imagined?) How important was the editor (as opposed to say, the amount of money involved) in choosing your publisher?
- How many revisions did your book go through with your editor? Were you generally pleased with his or her guidance? Were there moments or periods of friction or tension or frustration, where you felt that the editor was not “getting” your ideas/work, and how did you resolve? Do you have any advice in terms of knowing when and how to fight or give in, so to speak?
- What are the most important qualities in an editor, e.g., shaping the manuscript or serving as an effective advocate in the company at large (if that was an issue)?
Let’s dive in!
My first two books—one a completed manuscript, the other not even a thought in my head—sold over a decade ago, which should be said up front. The publishing industry was very different then, and even Doctorates in the Zeitgeist didn’t predict how soon, and how radically, book publishers would be facing not just a crisis, but extinction. I agreed with Updike, who said, while accepting an award, that the “book” as an artifact would never be replaced by a more sophisticated technology, for the simple reason that the book is the perfect complement to the human hand. Perhaps we were all naive, or self-serving. At any rate, Updike gave it his all and is dead now, so he was right enough at the time.
That first book of mine, a comic memoir about growing up in a farm town of 300 in Indiana in the 1960s, was sold in what is often called a “bidding war,” a term I loathe. While the process is much more like an auction, the military language is used because the egos of both the editors and the agents often guide the process, innocent civilians be damned. Given that publishing is a fishbowl smaller than the one in “Elmo’s World,” you can bet the players not only all know one another, they have complicated and sometimes bitter histories, and contracts are signed for less than lofty reasons every day. I write literary fiction and non-fiction, and the editors who specialize in that particular genre don’t even need the fishbowl: you can measure out their number in coffee spoons. Imagine how often they bid on the same manuscript or proposal, and how often the deeper pockets win. (Always.) Apologies for the 37 mixed metaphors, but I hope the point conveys.
Three editors participated in the auction, and the first editor, a woman I respect a lot, had to bow out immediately. She was employed by what was, then, one of the only remaining houses independently owned. Between the final two there were elements in play I couldn’t know, but in terms of their suitability for me and for the task at hand, either would have made me happy. I spoke extensively to all three by phone, just once, at the beginning of the process. After that the decision was not mine to make, and in fact I wasn’t informed until it was over.
Here I would like to offer a caveat to your readers, in terms of the tone of this question. Even in the golden days, when money flowed like the Mississippi and no one ever grew old, writers selling a first book could not approach Broadway or the Avenue of the Americas with a list of desired qualities in an editor, and if (then or now) you had an agent doing his or her job, the final decision was always based on money. My sweet creeping savior, the things I could say about agents! Their job is to tailor a contract that maximizes profit for both the author and themselves, and sometimes said contract is boilerplate and sometimes it has to be invented, but agents aren’t in this line of work because they are driven toward the sublime. Agents don’t weep over the ethereal pleasure of the perfect verb, or lose hours in deep engagement with a single poem by Anne Carson. Mine have all been wicked smart and quick-witted; two are without mercy. One was without conscience. If, reading this, you believe you will maintain purity as a writer AND be published by Bertelsmann? Bless your heart, I did, too. Agents know better, and they know better on your behalf. Now finish your milk—it’s time for prayer meeting.
I have published eight books (I think) (is that true?) and the editorial process was different for all of them. I had the same original editor, Amy Scheibe—first at Doubleday and then at the Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster, where I followed her—for two memoirs and three of my four novels, so I was blessed with unusual consistency. She and I were unusually close in general. She became part of my family, and I part of hers, but I doubt you’ll get many responses from writers so lucky.
The prose in both of my memoirs was left untouched by Amy. With the first she reordered the essays, making them chronological (I had arranged them thematically), and asked me to write two additional pieces to fill in gaps she saw. With the second she required not even that much. There are reasons for her open hand with the memoirs I won’t go into here, but her instinct was right. Both books are exercises in voice, and in the fine particularities of place, and she bought them because she trusted me as a writer without limits. The only changes to the second were made by copyeditors, and here let us all tip our hats and buy a round for copyeditors, who are our best friends and we rarely acknowledge it. HATS OFF, y’all!
But the novels? Hahaha, I’m not crying—I have allergies! I’m not drowning, I’m waving! The original contract, the one that resulted from the auction, was for the memoir and “one as-yet-unwritten first novel.” The addendum was written by the editor who lost, entirely for my benefit. Her hope was that I would publish forever, and if she couldn’t be the one to make that happen she could at least up the bid not only to a second book but into fiction, knowing Amy would accept the terms. (Susan, I’ll never forget you. You’re the berries, as my sister says.) My agent closed the deal, then called to tell me. I said, swallowing against my rising distress, “But… yes. See. I am a poet and an academic—a poet, which is the opposite of money. Also opposite of: novelist. I’ve never written a novel, I don’t even have two or three youthful attempts languishing in a desk drawer.” The agent said, “I guess you’ll figure it out, or you’re going to owe Doubleday a whole lot of sorry.” So I sat down and did it, and Amy loved the first half. Her editorial letter was thirteen single-spaced pages, and each point was cross-referenced on the manuscript with a colored Post-it note. I was to revise two first-person alternating POVs into close-third, meaning that the interior voices (so necessary to the sweetly damaged, or the unreliable narrator!) would be gone, and all of that would have to be conveyed through prose alone. And the ending had to be the opposite of the way I’d written it. And one character had to be amplified, but she didn’t say how, and she had gone through paragraph by paragraph and marked those that had gone on a beat two long and those that needed one, two, or three beats more, which—HELLO—you tell me what that means. The beats: they were to my cranium. My response was to lie down on the sofa in my study and stare at the ceiling for nearly a month, until my husband called my dear friend Lawrence Naumoff, a southern writer of unmatched depth and overall talent who was about as sucker-punched by New York publishing as anyone I can name. He said, “Put her on the phone.” During the month of my suffering I had become wispy and vague and tubercular. I tried to say hello but was too precious. Lawrence said, in his superfine accent, “Well, what you have to decide is if you’re a real writer or not, and if you’re a real writer you’ll stand up and get something to eat, then sit down at your desk and start at the first word and retype the entire thing—no cutting and pasting—and you will do every last thing your editor tells you to do, and you will not argue or protect your darlings, and in fact you will never again protect a darling, or think being edited is a violence. Okay?” I blinked, said, “Gotcha.” And that’s what I did. And Amy was right on every point.
It got easier with the second novel (although THAT is a story, yowza) but the third I put through five brutal drafts, Amy smacking me on the flank all the way to the finish line. She had acquired the fourth novel (Iodine) but took a job elsewhere before I’d written it, and right up until it went into copyedit I had no editor at all. It was the most complicated novel I’d ever written, or ever will. There is no profit in going that direction, I suspect. The plot was so complicated and hinged on so many buried subtleties I had to keep track of progressions with a series of symbols, and after I’d finished the third draft I read it BACKWARD, for reasons I can’t discuss without twitching.
However, I had different editors for my two children’s books, and editors in children’s divisions are of a different species. The first was a picture book, the second a chapter book for readers aged 7-12. My editor for the chapter book (who will be my editor for the next one) was BY FAR the most exacting, always kindly. But BY FAR. I rewrote those hundred or so pages so many times the words themselves began to look like symbols, or little wiggly arsenic-based lifeforms, like the kind Esther Greenwood begins to see in The Bell Jar. So don’t all be going into children’s fiction because it’s easy. You’ll find yourself accepting your own hide as a gift, and thanking your editor for it.
I have an entirely different editor for fiction now, Chuck Adams at Algonquin. He acquired a horror novel, The Farm, on first draft, and a second novel I’m not allowed to think about. I have his edit for The Farm and it’s very good—he’s as good as it gets, I think. I have an entirely different editor for non-fiction, Luke Dempsey at Random House. My first book for him, Outlaw Quakerism, is due in April and will be published in 2012—the horror novel the year following. As with Amy, Luke and his partner Liz spend holidays with my family, and we vacation together. We email or speak by phone every day. I’ll be in New York in a few days, and I’ll stay with Luke and Liz, and drink to great excess with both my agent, Christopher, AND with Amy, who is still both my friend and my ally and my advocate. These are relationships I never thought I’d have, so I had to invent their navigation. I know it looks odd, spelled out this way—my closeness to my business associates, but really.
I am possessed of very little wisdom or advice where writing is concerned, but I do know a few things. Behave like a professional from the first word. Extreme eccentricity is seen through with lightning swiftness, so drop it. You do not have to live in Brooklyn, and your name does not have to be Jonathan, and the vagaries of the press and the critics add up to little more than a lion roaring at the desert. If it looks like white, heterosexual privilege, it is, and although I doubt there is another Quaker out there reading these words we are all tasked to speak truth to power; do it with surgical delicacy and grace. There is no hill you want to die on, but it is your name on the front of the book. Everyone involved in the process, from assistants to editors to publishers to journalists, is worthy of your complete attention and your unwavering politeness and kindness. If you’re tired or frustrated or feel shanghaied, have a cocktail, take your meds, keep your mouth shut. There are no geniuses here, and no one—not one person on this earth—is owed the honor of being published OR read by public. Most importantly, it is impossible for any editor or any house to create a bestseller. They put their efforts where they can, and as I once heard a commentator say during an IU basketball game, sometimes you get the W and sometimes you get the doughnut. Grown men do not wear shorts, outside of the beach or the grill, so dress like a man and stand like a man and take your punches like a man, which I say as a woman who took boxing lessons as a child but refrains from beating the crap out of other people out of respect for Quakerism. Truly, best of luck to all of you.
All of this depends on the essential question of why you write. It is, I think, necessary to know and vital to remember, and not only during the editorial process. America offers at once the largest market in the world for books, and an incomplete understanding of what writers are, and what their role is. It is a singular condition that arises from our history as a colony, joined to our imperial power. The result is a cultural mindset unique in the world. Editors, by definition, serve a dual role. They are among the work’s first readers, and have a privileged position in the creative process. This relationship, though, is liminal, near the end of life for the work as private manuscript, and near the beginning of its second, but not yet final incarnation, as public object. They are, of course, in this capacity the agents of the publishing house, and whatever the publisher’s particular commercial concerns happen to be. The nature of the function is in this sense chthonic, and I think this leads to a great deal of confusion. I know it has for me. It is the tension between these two poles, and their belief systems—the creative on the one hand, and the economic on the other—that renders the choice of editor so vital. In my experience—wide to the degree it has encompassed novels, newspaper journalism and magazine writing, but all in the relatively brief span of 16 years—the best editors have been those who balanced their dual roles most gracefully. They were good readers of the work, while serving as skilled translators for the next phase of things, without burdening the writer too much with the inherent difficulties of their position. You want someone who can see the work, and transport it safely across the crossroads. It’s a special relationship, and a deeply personal choice, which is why it is so important to know your own mind before setting out. That said, if you listen to the work it will always give you the correct answer when faced with a choice. It’s your choice to heed its answer, or risk the peril of second-guessing your own creation.
Once a manuscript has been submitted for publication I think it should exist as close to final form as possible. The conversation with your editor is not a collaboration, rather the last opportunity to weigh each word. The most scrupulous editors sound out and challenge those things that ring false, according to the laws of literature, and the vision of the manuscript itself. Readers, of course, are not created equal. The manner in which an editor reads a manuscript gives you as much insight into his or her mind as you presumably have allowed your editor into yours. That is part of its intimacy. Your challenge is to filter the editorial advice, according to the integrity of the work—sorting out where the editor is right, and where he or she is wrong. Where you were right, and where you missed your mark. I once had an editor with a fluent ear, who saved me from a conceit I thought was dazzingly original, but it didn’t belong in that particular work. I also had an editor who was insistent that I lengthen a certain motif, because he liked it. I refused, and when a critic made the same point he phoned to gloat. I was satisfied with my original choice. It was a particular way of seeing, which wasn’t available to either the editor or the critic. One doesn’t expect all readers to have equal access to every layer of creation.
Serious editors, like serious writers, serve something beyond than their narrow, personal wants. I have had the fortune to work with editors I admired and learned from; editors I was less fond of, editors with their own agendas, and editors who surprised me. But good writers are many writers during the course of a career. There are fortunately enough good editors around that you eventually find those who understand what you’re about and up to. There will also be times when you feel you are discussing not the work, but other pressures and ambitions, or simply the prejudices of the culture—think of Ibsen’s German ending to A Doll’s House, or fug verses fuck in mid-20th century American novels under the old censorship laws. These represent dilemmas that are not only creative or financial, but moral. While the market in America can exert a censorious influence on books, and the conversation around them, there are writers all over the world who must make choices that may get them imprisoned, exiled, assassinated. Many have made, and continue to make these choices without equivocation, in the first register of their calling. They are great because they serve our inner lives and the unique truth and insight into the human that good books afford us. In light of this one feels confident that whatever your problems are, real or imagined, you will survive them just fine.
To be fair to the editors who met with me, they would have had to be psychic to know that I would be able to actually follow through and write my book, based on my proposal. Most people are not psychic, so I had some strange and awkward meetings. I also had some great meetings with editors who did seem to understand what I was going to do, but no one got the book the way Amber Qureshi did, and after we met she wrote me a very frank letter in which she did not kiss my ass but did demonstrate that she would be able to make the book work.
It was a hard decision because another editor had offered more money. I called up my old boss from when I’d worked in publishing to ask what I should do, and he told me that the right thing to do is always to take more money, because life is uncertain, and the professional life of a young and up-and-coming editor who might get a better job at another house at any time is especially uncertain. He was right—he’s always right—and you should keep his advice in mind. When you make a deal it’s with the publisher, not the editor. I prefer to make the risky un-fiscally responsible choice whenever possible, though, so didn’t take the bigger offer and luckily Amber didn’t abandon me. I think about the money all the time, though, and not in a wistful “ah, sliding doors” way.
I feel like everyone’s process is so different and I don’t want to get into the details of mine because I’m pretty sure it would bore you. The main thing I want to get across, and this is based on having worked in the editorial department of a commercial publishing house, is that there are great editors who will be very involved in actually editing your book, and then there are editors who have gotten to where they are by being very good at acquiring books, which is a different skill. In other words, there are editors who will wage war to buy your book and then essentially forget about it, and if you’re lucky their overworked assistant will hastily line-edit your book. Find out which kind of editor you’re dealing with by asking people who have worked with him or who’ve been edited by him. Your agent may know, or she may not.
This is a shitty thing about the current state of publishing that’s been written about extensively elsewhere (I bet if you go to the front page of The Millions or The Rumpus or n+1 right now there will be an essay about it) so I’ll spare you my genius take on the situation, but just very briefly: it makes sense that editors, whose career advancement is tied very explicitly to whether they acquire books that sell, don’t always become good at editing. But it sucks.
If your book is a novel or a nonfiction book with a strong narrative element then you need an editor who’s great at holistic editing—seeing the whole project and knowing what it needs more and less of. If your book is journalistic nonfiction or, you know, a printed Tumblr of whatever nature, your top priority will be to have an editor who’s a good in-house advocate for your book—which means making sure it gets brought up at marketing meeting and doing a really vehement and convincing presentation about it at sales conference. There is no way to know whether or not your editor is doing this stuff, though, and you’ll just drive yourself crazy if you even think about it. Ideally your editor would be able to do all these things well but there are only so many hours in the day.
One unavoidable crappy thing is that editors are not really ever on your side when their bosses want something different than what you want (for instance, regarding your cover or your blurbs or how your book is marketed). Why should they be? At the end of the day, you don’t sign their paychecks. They’ll do their best for you, but they have to balance that with making their bosses happy—and you should respect that. Also, I was dying to say this a million times a day when I was an editorial assistant so I will take the opportunity to say it now: please don’t ever allow yourself to behave as though you think your book is the only one on your editor’s list. She’s giving you as much of her time as she can.
After leading me through three revisions of my novel, my agent called me one afternoon—a Thursday—to announce that he “had a plan,” after which he sent the manuscript out to a number of editors. (Some agents will share with their authors exactly which ones, but mine did not; I’m personally just as happy not to know who rejected it.) Fortunately a few were interested, and the following Tuesday and Wednesday, I met with them. These meetings, which took place in the respective editors’ offices, felt like a cross between a first date and a job interview, and I would advise anyone going through a similar process to prepare accordingly, i.e., wear clean clothes, brush your teeth, do some research on the editor/publisher in question, and be prepared to listen as much as talk.
For the first meeting, I was sent to one of the oldest and most prestigious publishing houses in New York, so I was both excited and intimidated; granted, my agent had warned me that the editor in question was a bit of a “character,” but that he “loved” the manuscript and—as I learned via the usual methods—had enjoyed a long and illustrious career in both magazine and book publishing. The offices, however, were not exactly inspiring: the furniture in reception was brown and decrepit, the ceilings low and adorned with fluorescent lights, while empty cubicles could be glimpsed in the corridors just beyond reception (this was right before the implosion of the publishing world in the fall of 2008). I was greeted by an editorial assistant who glumly informed me that the editor was “not in,” but that he still wanted to talk with me; she led me to his office, where she instructed me to sit at his desk—i.e., in his chair, in front of his computer—and wait for his call. Despite this unfolding insanity and determined to keep an open mind and my spirits up, I admired the towers of manuscript stacked around the office, the pages bleeding copious editorial notes made in a tiny but precise lettering. (I resisted the urge to read the comments; also, I didn’t have a magnifying glass.) At the appointed time, the editor called and despite my misgivings about the odd situation (and the static-filled connection; he was “running errands” in what sounded like Times Square), I was charmed by his unfettered enthusiasm; as a reader, he clearly understood the work in ways both large and small and we spent most of the conversation tossing around ideas for possible non-fiction books (somehow we settled on the early years of Billie Holiday?) he wanted to pitch to his publisher in conjunction with the novel as a means of making me a more attractive package. The conversation was frequently interrupted by his fingers pressing the buttons on his cell phone—“Wonderful! I think that beeeeeeeeeeep or you could beeeeeeep”—and more than once we were disconnected; somehow we made it through with an agreement to have lunch very soon. (This never happened.) I think of him fondly, but am relieved not to be working closely with him.
The second meeting was with a newer imprint of another excellent publisher; I was warned by my agent that the editor in question had “serious problems” with one of the characters, but that I should keep an open mind. We discussed the character in question and she seemed unconvinced or nonplussed by my references to 19th-century French literature. She suggested that I was trying to squeeze two or possibly even three books into what should really be one; her advice was to put the manuscript in a drawer and rewrite the entire thing from scratch to gain a fresh perspective; unless or until this happened, she informed me, she would not be buying the work. I nodded and smiled and said thank you and felt like taking a barf-detour to the restroom, not because I thought her advice was bad or offensive, but because I couldn’t imagine following through on it; some things are just beyond our capabilities, and I knew that after having worked on the book for however many years, I would rather give up than kill myself in this manner.
The third meeting ended up being the best (I won’t bother describing a fourth, which was pleasant but unremarkable); while this editor (Suzanne O’Neill) also had some issues with one of the characters (a different one, interestingly enough), she was very enthusiastic about the work as a whole; rewriting from scratch was thankfully not on the table. She seemed genuinely excited about the novel, which is something to keep in mind: although publishing is obviously a business, editors (like agents) need to fall in love with your work, so that you can both deposit these good feelings into a metaphorical account to draw on during the inevitable rough patches. I was very pleased when at the end of the week, the agent called to tell me that Suzanne had come in with the highest offer (of three), which made my choice very easy. As it turned out, her issues with the book required three revisions, each of which was slightly less extensive (or perhaps less maddening, simply because there’s a fatigue for the work that must be overcome to dive in for the umpteenth time) than the preceding one.
My own method of dealing with editorial criticism is a multi-step process: 1) I allow myself to get angry or bitchy or annoyed that the editor didn’t understand what should be perfectly obvious, and to steam about it for a few hours; 2) I reconsider the comment a day or so later and decide that maybe she has a point; after all she’s very smart and she wouldn’t have bought the book if she didn’t love it (and she wants it to succeed as much as I do); 3) I make a genuine attempt to address the issue without sacrificing anything I consider integral to the book. (I should mention here that in our first meeting, she said nothing that made me worry about this kind of foundational upheaval, e.g., she didn’t say, “no gay sex” or “no stray-kitten subplots,” both of which were important to me and cut against the grain of conventional publishing wisdom, at least as I perceived it; and to her credit, I never felt anything but secure in my overarching vision for the book.)
I made it through the revision process with a lot of work and the kind of (self-inflicted) angst inherent to any meaningful writing, but with essentially no drama or confrontation, which I think is ideal for all parties concerned; obviously your editor, in addition to reading and commenting on your work, has a million other responsibilities (and other books!) that entail going to meetings and filling out forms and performing other sad, mundane obligations common to most everyone working in the modern era. This isn’t to say you should “cave” when confronted with a suggestion to amend your work that’s not at all to your liking, but rather to keep a certain distance. Before you pick up the phone or click send on an angry e-mail, take a day off and think about a more adult way to express yourself; if your editor doesn’t support you and your work (or thinks you’re an asshole for whatever reason), it’s going to introduce a lot more uncertainty into what’s already an incredibly nerve-wracking and precarious journey.
Don Van Natta Jr.
Before I sold my third book, Wonder Girl (a bio of Babe Didrikson to be published in June 2011), I met with editors at four or five publishing houses. A meeting with an editor who may or may not make an offer on your book is similar to a blind date: you and the editor size each other up while searching for signs of interest and, perhaps, enthusiasm. In my case, most editors were guardedly optimistic about the book’s appeal and its chances for success. I became most excited about the prospect of working with the editors who got my book and seemed sincerely excited not just about publishing it but reading it. In these meetings, sincerity is the trait that resonates. After these meetings, I hoped to work with the editors at either one of two houses. And I was fortunate that one of those editors, Geoff Shandler, the editor-in-chief of Little Brown and Company, bought Wonder Girl. I knew Geoff well—he bought my first book, First Off the Tee (2003), while at another house, PublicAffairs—and he’s one of the smartest and most talented editors I’ve worked with. (Geoff also edited my second book, a biography of Hillary Clinton called Her Way, published in 2007 and co-written by my former Times colleague, Jeff Gerth; this book was very different from my other two—it was reported and written under difficult circumstances, made harder by an arduous deadline.)
I’ve been lucky. On Wonder Girl, there were no revisions or rewrites, just a single meticulous edit by Geoff, who made the book much better (as did the house’s copy-editor and a half-dozen friends who read it carefully and offered fantastic suggestions). Some editors “drive a lawn-mower through your copy,” as a writer-friend likes to say. But a really good editor is much rarer—she polishes your copy without trampling your voice, finds the factual and logical holes in your manuscript that need to be plugged and keeps you from embarrassing yourself. On my latest book, Geoff did all three. I am most grateful for his ability to protect me from myself, cutting a number of my descriptions with the note, “You’ve already shown us this.” And he took out more than one unfortunate phrase. In one, I compared my protagonist, who was sidelined by an injury, as “a caged lioness.” I know, I know: Awful. Geoff didn’t just delete the phrase but wrote in the margin, “Reviewers would kill you.” It’s a rare editor who can stop you from getting bludgeoned and do it… gently.
Many authors complain that their books are not edited by book editors. So they hire outside editors. On Her Way, I did that, hiring a wondrous editor at the Times and close friend named Christine Kay. She did a fabulous job. Our copy was much cleaner than it would have been if Jeff and I had just turned it in to Geoff. But I learned during that book’s edit that when you are submitting a book to Geoff at Little Brown, you really don’t need to invest part of your advance on a pre-publishing editor.
1) Teamwork: I have worked with some editors who take over your work when you give it to them; by the time it is finished, it has become their work. This heavy-handedness is sometimes necessary but not always. When it’s not necessary, the process is awful because your work gets yanked back and forth in a tug-of-war that leaves your writing unrecognizable (and, too often, worse, not better). But the best editors see themselves as your silent partner, generously looking to make your work shine even more. The best editors become as familiar with the material as you, and they challenge you to think of ways to enhance the story-telling and elevate the writing and then they still find a way to improve things when you can’t any longer; and 2) Enthusiasm. This makes up for everything else. If an editor is as excited about your project as you are, it’s easy to forgive anything.
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Matthew Gallaway lives in Washington Heights and is the author of the forthcoming novel The Metropolis Case. Publishing School looks at “real-world” issues related to writing and publishing a book. Questions, comments, and ideas for future topics can be addressed to Matthew Gallaway at mattgallaway [AT] gmail [DOT] com.
Top photo from Flickr by mpclemens.