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Everybody's favorite book editor

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An editorial legend: Gordon Lish

A wonderful article in The Herald Scotland by Liz Thomson gives an insight into 83-year-old editor Gordon Lish. It offers great insight into Lish’s lifelong career as well as the way many great editors feel about the work they do.

“I have a gift. Or I have an opinion or I have a prejudice or a bias,” Lish explains. “Would that I were otherwise, but I’m not. I have a quick sense of the destiny of what’s before me.”

No matter how humble talented editors tend to be about their instinct for good writing and a writer’s ability to revise, the instinct is real.

“I’d get in at six in the morning. In those days I could look at a page of text and arrive at some kind of view of its qualities, its values. I can’t do that now because I’m quite impaired by macular degeneration so I can’t see enough, only a snippet.”

Although I’m a freelancer, I still get in to my home office by 6:00 a.m. It fills me with fear to think of a day when I can’t see text.

“I never felt competent to express what a book is about. It’s not about anything. Nothing but the writing.”

It’s important for writers to know how to discuss their book. I stress to my clients the need to express clearly and concisely what their book is about. Still, I feel protective of a client’s book when asked this question, wishing always that it would be sufficient to say, “Trust me. It’s good.”

“I’m comfortable with words,” Lish concludes. “I write them down psychotically. If I come upon a word I don’t know I write it down. Their effect on me is potent and delicious.”

This last quote was my favorite part of the article. To be comfortable with and psychotic about words. to find them potent and delicious, this is a good description of what it’s like being a logophile.

Read the entire article on HeraldScotland.com.

What you need to know before hiring an editor

Yesterday I wrote about the importance of the author–editor relationship.  Today I’m going to tell you what you need to know before hiring an editor, including things you don’t want to hear and things editors don’t want you to know.

Avoid non-editors

Teachers are not editors. People who are “good at English” are not editors.  Writers are not editors. People who read a lot of books are not editors.

Knowing grammar rules is a teeny fraction of editing, and rules often get in the way of good writing. Your manuscript needs to be reviewed by someone who knows, among many other things, how to edit your unique voice. Hire a professional editor, please.

Make demands

It’s acceptable to ask an editor for a résumé, references, and a copyediting sample. It is not acceptable to ask to see an editing sample of someone else’s work. It is acceptable to ask an editor to sign a contract and nondisclosure agreement. Most of the time my clients and I skip all of the above and get straight to work, but there is nothing wrong with asking for any or all of these things.

Expect professionalism

I’ve heard tell of so-called editors being rude to authors who inquire about editing services. When an author decides not to hire them, these “editors” resort to name calling and other unprofessional behavior. Unbelievable. Professional editors will treat you with respect at all times. It might even be in your best interest to reject all editors at first to see if they behave professionally or not.

 

 

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