Beyond the author, the editor is the other major factor in the creation of a book. At his or her best, the editor has the talent for guiding, goading, and grilling so that the author’s vision and text is fully realized. The best editor for you is not necessarily the best editor for me. The best editor for this book is not necessarily the best editor for that book. The best working relationships are predicated on trust, articulation, and insight. The worst working relationships are shaped by discourtesy and unstated feelings of “I know what’s best,” by writer or editor.
I have known writers who bully their editors. I have known editors who bully their writers. There are writers who, in the course of a career, work only with one editor. There are writers who work with many editors. I have known editors who will tell you they are the talent in the author’s creation. I have known writers who claim editors have had no impact on their work. Some editors have exquisite tact. Others, well, don’t.
When I work with a good editor I sense the possibilities of my work and am energized. When I work with a poor editor I feel I am writing to someone else’s vision and become dispirited. I have worked with editors who have offered almost nothing to my text and I have worked with editors who essentially wish to rewrite my book. That said, a writer can be wrong about what is best for a book, while the editor can be right.
Sometimes the working (and personal) relationship is full of tension. Sometimes it becomes a real friendship. I have worked with a truly great editor, Richard Jackson, who has guided a unique list of fine writers to an astonishing number of successes. Not a coincidence. And I have worked with other truly great editors whose names you will never know.
Does all this seem complex and a little mysterious? It is!