I 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.
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.”