Saturday, March 21, 2009

Publishing cliché series -- is it true that "Editors don't edit anymore"?

I've decided to start a little series dedicated to the shopworn publishing clichés I hear in this goofy, amazing profession. The first is something I hear from unpublished authors mostly, that "Editors don't edit anymore." Then Ecco editor Lee Boudreaux brought it up again as a sore point in the March/April Poets & Writers. Boudreaux points out "Having worked at two different houses, I literally do not know who they're talking about. Who just acquires and doesn't edit? I feel like everybody I've ever worked with sweats blood over manuscripts. And you reap the rewards of doing that."

Agreed. My editor at Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Elisabeth Kallick Dyssegaard, worked so hard. I was amazed at the dedication, the time invested in back-and-forth work over drafts, and the general sense of care and craft that went into Elisabeth's work.

When some people hoist this particular canard (and yes, I know that I'm combining clichés here), they also like to cite Maxwell Perkins -- the longsuffering editor of Thomas Wolfe's Southern Gothic doorstop Look Homeward, Angel -- as a real editor. Oh please. Even Wolfe finally decided that the interdependence had to end, and he left Perkins's publishing house, Scribners, to sign with Knopf. If you're going to cite Perkins as a real editor and the rest as pikers, then I'll consign you to a corner of literary hell where all you can read for eternity is The Great Gatsby and The Sun Also Rises over and over and over and over again.

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