Editor, Writer, and the the Division of Labor

EditorI got a message from my publisher (and nominally “editor”) today. After 28 chapters have been submitted and typeset, I am told, “Need to have 2-3 call outs in chapters that are all text.” It made me think that it would be a good idea to discuss what editors do and what writers do. But first I should explain to you what “call outs” are. In the publishing industry, a “call out” is nothing at all. There is no term. The phrase is idiosyncratic: the result of a tiny publisher cut off from the rest of the industry — and one that really doesn’t know anything other than what it does.

What I am being asking for now are what are called “pull quotes.” You have seen them a lot, because I use them a lot. A pull quote is “a brief, attention-catching quotation, typically in a distinctive typeface, taken from the main text of an article and used as a subheading or graphic feature.” They were first used in magazines and now are widely used on the internet. But they are rarely used in books. They make books look less serious. If a book wants to go with a magazine kind of layout, it will focus on pictures. So not only do pull quotes make books look silly, they make the publisher look cheap.

There is a symbiotic relationship between a writer and an editor. A great editor can make a mediocre writer good and a good writer great. And a good writer can make the work of an editor a pleasurable experience.

But this is all fine. There is just one problem that I have in all this: there are things that writers do and there are things that editors do. Asking a writer to provide the pull quotes is like asking the writer to provide the cover art and the ISBN. Look in any style guide: the editor, in the process of editing the work, selects passages that they consider effective. But I understand the problem with this particular editor: doing that would require actually reading the text!

Editor and Writer Together

There is a symbiotic relationship between a writer and an editor. A great editor can make a mediocre writer good and a good writer great. And a good writer can make the work of an editor a pleasurable experience. What I’ve found fascinating about editing is that it takes me as long to edit a good writer as it does a bad writer. But the process is different. And the results when working with a good writer are edifying, whereas working with a bad writer is exhausting. With a good writer, it’s like you are putting a great work of art in a fine frame and mounting it on the wall. With a bad writer, it is like you are putting out a fire.

There are times when there is some crossover between writer and editor. For one thing, writers often need particular illustrations for a piece and they will ask that they be placed in particular places. Writers will ask for other things, like not having a cover that totally sucks. But these are all requests and the editor has final say. But since most people have some notion of fairness, writers aren’t expected to do all the work and have no say in it. They provide the content and that’s about it. That’s the way things work in the publishing industry.

When I’ve worked with other small presses, this is the way it has worked. In fact, when I worked with this small press, this is how it worked. Of course, these small presses get away with murder. They don’t actually edit the works. They typeset. I was reading the original book (published with another publisher) and I found embarrassing errors. I compared them to my original manuscript: they were the same. No copy editing was done. It’s the same thing here.

Editors and writers should be best of friends. And in general, I’ve gotten along swimmingly with editors. But these pretenders are not editors. They don’t care about words and syntax and style. And some of them don’t even care enough to read the book so they can decide on their own pull quotes or “call outs.”

9 thoughts on “Editor, Writer, and the the Division of Labor

  1. That’s so odd. It’s really not caring about what has your company’s name on it. If this was the same book I read the earlier edition of, it’s neither long nor difficult to read. There is some messed-up stuff going on in this person’s head.

    • After asking how many words the quotes should be, I got a raving email about how difficult I make everything. I continue to hear about all the writers she is working with. It’s a lie. I know what she publishes. I manage at least twice as many writers creating probably 10 times as much content. I’ve decided that after the book is published, I will not only block her email but also phone calls. If she needs to reach me, she has my address.

      • It’s so sad, really. I hope you don’t get any letters from this person. Although if you don’t, it probably means they found someone else to bully. But that’s not your responsibility. People like that always need someone to bully and will always find some trusting soul to pick on.

        I’ll find my Google address eventually. Right now my apartment is just strewn with medical bills I don’t want to open. I’ll deal with it eventually.

        • Well, I have to get business correspondence. I just want to go back to the days when I got a yearly accounting and that the extent of our relationship.

      • You know this means she is going to show up on your doorstep. And unlike when I do it, she won’t be bearing gifts and awkward pauses.

        • No. She lashes out at me because it is convenient. I’m not alone. She treats everyone this way. This is why she has no friends. And I think she is particularly harsh toward me because I’m one of the people who best deals with her. So when I show anger toward her, she freaks out. I’ve long thought she has something of a crush on me. I am to some extent like her late husband.

            • Something hit me today. She didn’t used to be this bad. Recently she managed to get a doctor to put her on human growth hormone. (She’s very into conspiracy theories.) I think that has something to do with it.

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