word craft


A complex and mysterious relationship

IslandJust as “No man is an island, Entire of itself,” no writer writes a book alone.

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!

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