Wednesday, May 4, 2011

On Editing

Book editors don't get very famous very often. Even the most renowned--a Maxwell Perkins, say,

or a Diana Athill,

are really only known within a relatively small world of bookish types. So you don't tend to see that much being said, out there in the wider world, about editing (except perhaps for the occasional snarky dig). Which is part of what makes this Salon article about editor Robert Gottlieb so refreshing.

That and the fact that he just has some really great and smart things to say about the editor's craft. For instance--
  • Your to be in sympathy with what the writer is doing and to try to help her or him make it better of what it is, not to make it into something else. Because that way there will be tears.
  • I was encouraging her to do something she already knew she had to do. That's how an editor can be of real use, if the editor trusts his intuitions.
  • I don't really know what I do as an editor. I've never thought about it, really, except when being interviewed. Because I just do it. It's organic for me, whereas writing is not organic. Which makes it a challenge for me that editing isn't. I'm a fixer. See, my nature is to make things better of what they are.
  •  [Editing] certainly hasn't changed for me. I'm doing exactly the same thing I was doing in 1956. You know, I don't believe in all this change. Certainly not at good publishing houses. I see younger editors -- they could be 45, or 35, or 22 -- coming in and out of Knopf, where I still have an office. Now, maybe today everything is sent electronically, so they don't have to do what I did, which is to lug the manuscript home and bring it back the next morning, but some still do that, too. They're very devoted. They're very ardent. I think it's one of those myths.

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