All Hail The Editor
We need more editors. Everywhere.
I get the Times delivered. Just on Sundays, otherwise, I would have too much paper to eventually throw away.
Getting the national paper delivered once a week was a part of my grand plan to remove myself from the news cycle. Ditch the news, get more stuff done during the day. Modern news is the invitation down a rabbit hole. Online news invites absolute insanity.
The Sunday edition is different from the daily. It is the top stories from the week. A collection of sections compiled, printed, and delivered in a format that is far more palatable than the distraction-ridden screen. It takes most of Sunday to get through it all. I’m rarely angered by any of it. If something really calls out to me — usually something in the Book Review — I will find it online and Tweet about it.
On a scale like the times, a different editor heads every section. Each editor has their own style and objective. They all talk to each other so that each issue has a cohesive feel. The main section with the front page is usually dense, all in black and white, and all about the news. The Travel section has full-page spreads of photos of places I haven’t been to yet. Arts? Lots of colors there. Half-page ads for shows when Tonys season is upon us.
Throughout the week these stories get published online. Different formats make it to the print versions. At the end of it all, a different version gets printed for the guy in Denver.
This week I realized that few of us recognize what an editor actually does.
A proofreader checks the commas, the typos, the sentences that were started but never quite finished.
An editor does that and so much more.
An editor orchestrates. They are the planner of the calendar. What gets published when. The approver and denier of ideas. They work with the contributor to refine a bad idea and make it into something useable.
I have helped numerous bootstrapped publications over the years help comprehend what it is they were attempting to put together. When left to their own devices, writers will plug anything into a box and hit “publish.” An editor makes sure the contributions contribute to the overall feel of the publication. The editor knows the audience, how they will respond, and what needs to be delivered.
An online editor needs to be more careful of this than ever. A person who visits a specific publication online is expecting a certain quality, a particular voice, and articles of a particular type. Readers tend to get confused if they come across something outside of the anticipated spectrum.
An editor gets in the way. They are the invisible wall between writer and audience.
Talk to a writer at a party. Any of them. You will find at least three screws loose.
An editor knows what the writer is trying to say better than the writer who is trying to say it. They are the sounding board for a writer who is stuck. They are the tuning fork to hone in the style and tone. They can see through how the writer is talking about their work and help guide them to the finish line.
Editors are also the ones who cut books down from 1000 pages to 200. They are the ones who point out the holes and the redundancies. In a novel of a hundred plot lines, they can identify the four or five the readers will actually give a damn about.
I have spent long nights with writers trying to get to the last pages of a book they started. They are tired, frustrated. They have worked on the beast from concept and walked it around for miles only to lose sight of where they began. A fresh set of eyes can do everything. Eventually, they go to bed and I get to work. Slashing whole chapters, reorganizing sections, rewriting thousands of words. A draft or two later they are thrilled with how it reads. The agent is thrilled. The reader buys it and we can all eat again.
I don’t think you can learn to be an editor.
You can learn to be a proofreader. A copy editor, maybe. Memorizing the mechanics of anything shows you how the machine works. Editors aren’t mechanics, they’re architects.
Great Editors Are Loved By Writers
I would take a manuscript and set it on fire if my editor told me that is all it was worth. Then again, it takes a long, long time for me to develop that kind of trust. It is like a relationship. Or an affair.
There are months I love editing more than I do writing. Then the moon changes and so does the direction of my pen.
Hiring a writer does not make one an editor.
Having a website or an opinion on someone’s writing does not make one an editor. There is endless work out there I have submitted to places I wish I hadn’t. Things were added, cut, links dropped, and sentences partially deleted but never replaced.
Editing is a conversation, not a resolution. If an edit doesn’t go back to the writer at least once there is a failure on the line. In the world of online publishing, I feel there need to be more editors than ever, yet they are the last hired and first fired.