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Editors Talk about Editing

Insights for Readers, Writers and Publishers


Susan L. Greenberg

The work of «editing» is by and large something that happens behind the scenes, noticed only when it is done badly, or not done at all. There is not much information about what editors do. The result is that editing is not often talked about in its own right – not even by the people who do it. This collection of interviews attempts to fill some of the gaps. The author, a former editor herself, interviews practitioners at the top of their game – from newspapers, magazines, broadcast news, book publishing, scholarly editing, academic publishing and digital curation. The interviewees think out loud about creativity and human judgment; what they have in common and what makes them different; how editing skills and culture can be shared; why editing continues to fascinate; and why any of this might matter.
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Editing takes place behind the scenes, and is called by many different names. There is not all that much information about what happens during editing—what it is, exactly, that people do. Many people are unaware of the full range of possible editorial interventions, and therefore remain unaware of the difference editing can make, for good or ill. Like other work that happens behind the scenes, editing is often noticed only when it is done badly, or not done at all.

When one does find information about editing practice, the activities it describes are bafflingly varied. ‘What an editor does all day and why he does it is usually a mystery to an author and just as much of a mystery to most of the people inside a publishing house,’ writes Clarkson Potter, an editor-turned-publisher (1990: 82–83).

The result is that editing, as a subject in its own right, is not talked about very often—not even by the people who do it. Editors are by and large reluctant to draw attention to their own work, perceiving it as something that could harm the text’s relationship with both author and reader. The reluctance is captured in the comments of veteran book editor Thomas McCormack, who wrote that editors ‘are always in the “backroom” [and] that’s where we should be’ (1988: 95).

The collection of interviews presented here is an attempt to fill some of the gaps and silences. The interviews...

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