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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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The professional model of publishing, which designates clear roles and responsibilities, is only partly about getting things done to a consistent standard and in a timely fashion. It is also a way of managing the inevitable failure of human life in a productive way. An understanding that things can be better because of failure, not in spite of it, is a sustainable form of realism.

This book presents a set of focused conversations in a narrative form. Each encounter has its own personal qualities. At the same time, they are conceived as part of a larger study that aims to show patterns across the field. When the words of practitioners are brought into proximity, arguments become clear in a manner that cannot be achieved by analysis alone, no matter how well supported.

Overall, one gets a sense of the professional identity of editing practitioners. They tend to be people who are able to see things from different points of view and who see editing as an opening up of possibilities, rather than closing things down; a collaborative conversation rather than hierarchical control; judgment as action rather than criticism. They come across as being driven not just by the ulterior motive of meeting a practical target, but also by an ultimate motive, love for the work.

This counterintuitive picture brings more nuance and complexity to our understanding of an important practice. Some key themes are explored as follows:

Naming and metaphors...

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