Publishers Weekly: ‘What Ever Happened to Book Editors?’

In “What Ever Happened to Book Editors?” at publishersweekly.com, veteran editor Marjorie Braman mused about how book editors do a lot less editing and a lot more of everything else.

A publisher once said to me, almost in passing, “We don’t pay you to edit.” The real message was: “Editing is not crucial. If you’re an editor, what matters is acquiring.” After I’d left in-house editing and was being courted by an agency, the owner/agent said to me, “Remember, you can’t sit in your office and edit.” In other words, “If you’re an agent, what matters is selling.” One thing these comments imply is that editing is no longer the editor’s main function; editing is done on your own time.

Now an independent editor, Braman added:

I’d been through a lot of upheavals in the business, and one of the more insidious, but telling, things I’d seen happen as publishers cut back on staff was the expansion of the role of editors. Need a copywriter? No, we’ll get the editor to write the flap copy. Is the art department understaffed and overloaded? No problem, the editor will come into the art meeting cheerfully armed with ideas.

Need a blurb for the book to get the sales department excited? The editor, in consultation with her magic Rolodex, will get just the right quote from just the right author (whom she’s never met, but for whom she somehow has a home address). It’s a snap. Oh, and bring some publicity and marketing ideas to the launch meeting, too, while you’re at it. And that’s what editors get paid for. It’s fun, but it’s not editing.

These days, Braman is getting back to basics. That is, editing.

She wrote that “publishers have to acknowledge what every editor—in-house or freelance—knows: editing is crucial and can make the difference between the success or failure of a book.”

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Transcription Is a Worthwhile Writing Task

The idea of transcribing a recording is often a turnoff for me. It can be a tedious and time-consuming exercise. But it’s also necessary work for some writing projects, and it’s often rewarding, too. The time spent transcribing can cut down on writing time. It aids understanding of the material and can help create a structure for a first draft.

This was the case for me on a recent project. My assignment was to ghost write a year-in-review article for a company president. My source material was an online town-hall meeting during which the president gave a state-of-the-company presentation. I also had his PowerPoint slides, as well as other background material.

I decided to transcribe his talk, which lasted about 35 minutes, a rough transcription instead of word-for-word. His presentation created a built-in outline for the article. Once I completed the transcription, I had a very raw draft of the article. I cut and polished his words, added an opening and ending, and set it aside. Later I refined the article and turned it in. My client liked it.

As it turned out, the transcription and other prep to write the article took much longer than the actual writing and editing. For the most part, the article wrote itself, a case when a full transcription was well worth the time.