It was no surprise to me recently when an online search for “famous editors” netted exactly one name I recognized. It was not notable to me because of the person’s work in editing, however: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis couldn’t escape becoming a household name after her husband, 35th President of the United States John F. Kennedy, was assassinated while in office. It didn’t hurt that the Kennedys continued to be a prominent name in American politics, or that Jackie’s second marriage to a Greek shipping magnate stirred a huge amount of controversy at the time and thereafter. But few people beyond the inner elite of the book world actually know which books she edited while working at either Viking Press or Doubleday.
The Author and Editor Relationship
I read some interesting stories, during my search for famous editors, of great author-editor relationships. But when you get right down to it, the editor might make an enormous difference to the power and readability of the finished product, but it’s the author who gets all the attention over the course of a book’s life.
That’s the way it should be.
In fact, the concept of invisibility is an important one in writing a book. As an editor, I have no wish to take credit for how well-written my clients’ books are. I write my own books, and my ego is amply satisfied through seeing my author credits on Amazon and my books in book stores. My job is to apply my writing skills and editing abilities to the creation of excellence in my clients’ written work. I operate behind the scenes, asking only for a credit line in the Acknowledgements section of my clients’ books.
It’s not just your editor who stands behind a curtain when you’re writing a book. The quality of the writing itself should also operate below the radar of your reader’s awareness. In fact, you don’t want your readers noticing the writing at all. You want your readers to be swept away by how relevant, fascinating, interesting or powerful the ideas your writing expresses are.
You don’t want readers to be busy thinking, “Oh my, this sentence is awfully long,” or “The author has already said that in a different way three paragraphs ago,” or “I don’t really understand what they’re getting at here. That keeps happening. I think I will stop reading now.”
By contrast, it might seem like a compliment if your readers stop and think, “Goodness that’s a lovely sentence – look how nicely the author has maneuvered that noun and that verb into agreement.” But, it’s not. The point is to make the writing invisible. And an editor can only do that by making your book sublimely comfortable for people to read. That takes an incredible mastery of grammar, an intense attention to detail, a huge vocabulary, and a range of soft skills that completely rattles the senses. Oh, and no egotistical need to arrogantly take your book over and re-make it according to his or her own idea of what the book should be about. Your editor must respect your voice.
Everybody needs an editor. But they—we—should occupy a respected seat in the background of their author’s work, where they can enjoy the author’s moments in the sun with pride.
If you would like to discuss how I might be able to help your manuscript shine, I invite you to contact me for a complementary conversation about your book project.