I blame my parents for my love of reading, but I blame Scott Berg’s biography of Maxwell Perkins (Max Perkins: Editor of Genius) for my desire to become an editor. Fitzgerald! Hemmingway! Thomas Wolfe! Encouraging one novelist to drink less and write more; massaging the ego of another; wrestling the wild imagination of a third into readable form. Was Perkins a collaborator? No. Cowriter? Absolutely not. But he was an invaluable “second eye,” trusted sounding board, and gentle critic. It sounded to me like my true calling. But in my time, editing for a publishing house wasn’t quite so simple.
A publisher once said to me, almost in passing, “We don’t pay you to edit.” The real message was: “Editing is not crucial. If you’re an editor, what matters is acquiring.” After I’d left in-house editing and was being courted by an agency, the owner/agent said to me, “Remember, you can’t sit in your office and edit.” In other words, “If you’re an agent, what matters is selling.” One thing these comments imply is that editing is no longer the editor’s main function; editing is done on your own time. But that has been true since I went into the business 28 years ago.
As a freelance editor, these models no longer apply to my work. I no longer have to jump on every promising submission overnight. I no longer need to be looking over my shoulder, hoping for the approval of the marketing, publicity, and sales departments. I no longer have to determine the worth of any particular project a year before publication (and we know how often publishers get that right!). The burden on the freelance editor consists solely of helping the author write his or her best possible book.
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