The Art of Editing, or some words from Robert Gottlieb

The full article is here.

But Here are some excerpts, some of the words I loved.

Publishing was a very different business in the fifties. Many of the big houses were still owned by their founders—Bennett Cerf and Donald Klopfer owned Random House; Alfred Knopf owned Knopf; Dick Simon and Max Schuster were still at Simon & Schuster. As a result, publishers were frequently willing and able to lose money publishing books they liked, and tended to foster a sense that theirs were houses with missions more lofty than profit. “It is not a happy business now,” says Gottlieb, “and it once was. It was smaller. The stakes were lower. It was a less sophisticated world.”

Publishing was a less sophisticated world. Publishers were willing to lose money to publish something they loved. That is how you launch the new Joyce, DeLillo, etc.

The first thing writers want—and this sounds so basic, but you’d be surprised how unbasic it is in the publishing world—is a quick response. Once they’ve finished a new manuscript and put it in the mail, they exist in a state of suspended emotional and psychic animation until they hear from their editor, and it’s cruelty to animals to keep them waiting.

Well, that’s nice of you Bob.

Somehow, to be helpful, an editor has to embody authority yet not become possessive or controlling.

Never, never ever hire an editor that wants to write the book for you. They should tell you where you have to change things – not change those themselves.

But I’ll tell you, I think every writer should have tattooed backwards on his forehead, like ambulance on ambulances, the words everybody needs an editor.

That isn’t Gottlieb. That is Michael Crichton. Nevertheless, that’s the best advice: everybody needs an editor. Editor won’t just make your manuscript shine, they will make you a better writer.

Editing is simply the application of the common sense of any good reader. That’s why, to be an editor, you have to be a reader. It’s the number one qualification. Because you could have all the editorial tools, but if you’re not a responsive reader you won’t sense where the problems lie.

This applies to writers as well. You cannot write if you don’t read. You simply cannot. It’s like composing music without having ever listened to any melody.

Bob and I would have big fights over colons and semicolons.

Well, that applies to me as well. I loathe ellipsis, and love em dashes. An editor should not change your rhythm, just fix it when you’re out of it.

And, of course, the ending:

But publishing has changed in many ways, and one of them is that these days many editors don’t edit. There are editors now who basically make deals; they have assistant editors or associate editors who do the actual editing for them. When I was growing up in the business, editors, even if they were heads of publishing houses, tended to edit what they brought in, or they had someone who worked with them who could help them. Now it’s much more splintered, and the business of publishing has become far more complicated and fierce and febrile.

On the other hand, one has to remember that the time I look back on as the golden age was seen by people like Alfred Knopf as the age of the slobs, as opposed to prewar publishing, which was the true golden age. At a certain point you have to face the fact that you’ve turned into an old fart—that you can’t tell whether the zeitgeist has actually changed for the worse or whether you’ve simply fallen behind and aren’t in touch anymore.

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