The Downside Of Being An Editor

Ah, over some time I have, on occasion, reflected on events that I have been part of, and how it affects me as an editor – and how I affected others. I should add that my role is not unique with regard to what I will discuss below – there are other jobs that can be compared to that of being an editor.

I'll get the up-side out of the way quickly – and it certainly isn't less important to me – hey, it has to be stronger than the downside to actually cause me to continue to it – but it isn't as interesting as the downside. Firstly, the only thing better (from a professional/creative point of view) than publishing one's own story, is to help others achieve publication. It is a thrill. It is exciting. It is, ultimately, rewarding. Being a key player in a small publishing concern is also rewarding, for many of the same reasons as being an editor, and providing the pleasure of turning such a concern a success. Working with words is fun, and helping an author polish the music of our great language, is pleasurable. As a writer, I have learned much about my craft by exercising my editorial skills with other authors. I am certainly humble enough to acknowledge that I constantly learn from every author I work with. All in all, it is a fantastic job to have.

Now the downside. I am being clinical in my descriptions here, so you must understand that it does not imply that these 'events' happen all the time, or in each case to an extreme extent. I am being hyperbolic, perhaps.

As an editor I don't just work at the creative level all the time. I am a businessman as well. I am part of a team that must ensure, through our responsibilities, that the business is viable. Even though I would LOVE to help every author I touch on get better, I can't help the majority. I must often reject, and while I try my best to explain why, my rejections at best will be brief. I am respectful and honest at the same time. Nevertheless, not everyone likes it. I do get email directed to me (or my company) with varying degrees of 'peevedness' about them. These email can be short, long, terse, clinical – but ultimately all emotional. Most have little effect on me, and some may even be somewhat, strangely, funny, but the cumulative effect can be a little depressing at times. Only a little. The underlying reason why I get concerned with this is because I see writers who have a weakness that needs to be overcome, and often aren't – they need to develop the necessary combination of confidence, thick-skinnedness, and willingness to improve by taking on board constructive criticism (and, for that matter, having the wits to determine what is constructive criticism).

Working one-on-one with authors is mostly goodness. By and large authors who form the relationship to polish a manuscript have sober, sensible attitudes to the relationship. As an editor, I have a key role to help nurture the relationship. There can be hairy moments, and these can be 'downsides'. One example is excessive violence and/or sex in their manuscripts. Each publishing house has a policy of one form or another that scopes what is acceptable or not for publication – it isn't a moral issue, some effort at defining what is right or wrong. No. It is usually a mix of factors, including defining what the publishing house's target audience/s is/are. This isn't always easy to explain to a writer, but I can say that I haven't had any issue grow into a knock-down battle. It works out – and often because the author and I work together to come up with an alternative, creative and acceptable result. Another potential downside to working in a relationship is if the author has, for whatever reason, issues with confidence, process, or something personal going on their lives. Yes, there is a bit of psychology employed, albeit 'pop' in my case. It taxes one's time, and sometimes one's nerves, for all sorts of reasons.

There is a downside to another form of relationship with me as an editor. It has to do with personal relationships. This type can be divided into two sub-forms. Firstly, there are those people who were friends and acquaintances with me prior to, or aside from, any professional relationship. These are the people who want you to read their work, with that expectant look on their faces. These are the people who suddenly ignore you if you respond with a less than optimistic assessment, and usually a rejection. Most people respect my space, and my position, but the pressure and tension can still be there. I don't believe it will ever go away.

The second sub-form of this particular downside type is when a relationship is formed post (or during) the professional relationship. This is where a friendship is formed, or strong acquaintanceship, and then I, the editor, am subjected to overt or covert pressure to 'do things' for the author, or illustrator, or whoever. While I doubt that in the majority of cases the person concerned is intentionally manipulating me, there is a degree of it happening. The wider the collection of such relationships, the greater the accumulated effect. This can often extend beyond just the editor – it becomes a managerial issue, including marketing and managing directorship. For example, an author may want certain marketing opportunities that are well and truly beyond the capacity of the publisher and explicitly noted in its manifesto, and yet there are the barrages of requests. This effect is particularly upsetting to me if the friendship is (or appears) strong, and the person concerned chooses to hold back, hide, or distort facts/communication to achieve an end. Only recently I was led to believe that a particular person was happy as Larry, and more importantly, was happy for me to unravel an issue, only to learn a few hours later it was escalated with threats and demands. I personally can live, like most of us do, with the foibles of being human – the disagreements, spats, etc, but from a professional perspective I take great exception with manipulation, intended or not.

Totally separate from relationships is the last notable downside – time. Publishing is a meticulous, time-consuming business, and no area of this industry where it is more obvious than the editing/proofing stages. Discipline and patience is paramount – no stones must be left unturned. There is no question that an editor must have the right temperament and skill to take on these challenges, but it can also take its toll. Many hours are consumed and it can be wearisome. There can be deadlines that create enormous pressure. Unfortunately, this is one that goes with the territory.

So, I have vented my spleen somewhat. But it haven't, really. I just want to share with you my experience being an editor. It is a facet of my life – and not necessarily a major one. I'm not after sympathy, just a few nodding of heads, and perhaps a handful of 'oh, so that's what happens'.

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