Perhaps I Could Have Used Advice from an Editor
Posted by: Keir Graff
I linked to the obituary of L. Rust Hills even though I didn’t have anything interesting to say about it. But I’ve always been interested in the relationship between author and editor, and now that so few authors get meaningful editing, I guess I was moved by the departure of one of the greats. Editors are all but invisible to the reading public anyway, and now there seem to be a lot less of them. Or, given the gazillions of books that are published, maybe there is the same number of editors, but they are proportionately fewer.
(Either way, we should pay more attention when they win the Maxwell E. Perkins Award for Distinguished Achievement in the Field of Fiction, as did Jonathan Galassi, president of Farrar, Straus, & Giroux.)
Fortunately, Thomas Beller has something interesting to say about “the mysterious motives of fiction editors” (“The Deciders,” Slate):
Editing is really about deciding—you have to decide whether you like the overall voice and content of what you are reading, and if you do, you have to make certain decisions about the internal life of the piece. Editing can be at its most profound when it involves making a vague, almost aphoristic remark that might change a writer’s entire focus, and it can be most profound when it entails wrestling with minutia, adding commas or subtracting them and, in this tiny way, changing the whole style and feel of a piece of writing. The malleability of a piece of writing as it is experienced by the reader in draft form makes reading more taxing than it would be on the printed page. But it also brings with it a bump of excitement. It lends a feeling of power and adventure to the reading experience. I assume that this feeling of power—and also, if you are discovering a writer, the vicarious sense of accomplishment and, finally, the bright moment of seeing beyond what is there on the page to what could be there—is what draws people to being fiction editors, especially fiction editors for magazines, which is one of the strangest and hardest-to-describe professions. There used to be so many of them! Where have they gone?