U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Editors and Editing

Over at the Historical Society blog, Randall Stephens recently posted on editors and editing. For some time now, changes in the publishing industry have made it difficult for editors to actually edit. They spend their time in meetings, running budget numbers and performing a variety of tasks that make them more like product managers than editors. Even though the problem seems to lie in the structural and financial changes in publishing houses, editors themselves can sometimes be defensive about these changes. After all, I imagine that they did not get into the business so that they can be product managers that handle intellectual content. When I was shopping around my book manuscript, I once asked an editor (who shall remain nameless) whether it was true that editors no longer edit. He responded tetchily (I’m paraphrasing here, but this is pretty close to what he said), “When am I supposed to edit? I don’t have time, and I can’t really be expected to sacrifice my entire life to read every book I publish.” I don’t really want to focus on these changes, which we can’t reverse and neither can the editors (but if you want to read about some of the structural shifts, especially as they affect trade houses, check out this piece by Richard Curtis). I want, instead, to talk about the editors who, in spite of these adverse conditions, continue to edit. My editor on The Myth of American Religious Freedom, Theo Calderara, was the platonic ideal of an editor, giving my entire book a close line edit and walking me through the entire process. There are others who continue to find time to edit. I’m told that Susan Ferber of OUP and Joyce Seltzer of HUP provide careful, developmental editing. Chuck Grench at UNC Press does an “editorial report” for the author that makes macro-level suggestions for changing and developing the manuscript before it goes to the copy editor. I’d be curious about other editors that provide substantial editorial help. Note that this is not the place for complaints about an editor, many of whom do the best they can with limited resources. But given these changes in the publishing industry, who continues to edit?

One Thought on this Post

  1. David,

    Great post. I’m thinking a lot about these issues this very week. Though I’m a better editor of my own (and others) work now more than ever, I’d be the first to admit I need many readings to catch everything. I’m hoping to have very solid, detailed readers for my first book. It’s great that the older, established houses have maintained traditional practices, but us new folks rarely end up with those publishers for our first works. Am I going to have to pay a few people—one for content/macro and the other for mirco/copy-editing—to ensure that my first book meets my own standards?

    – TL

Comments are closed.