Catch of the Day: The Art of Editing

On my brand-new one-hour walk into work I have taken to occasionally listening to episodes from the Guardian Books podcast. The latest episode I have listened to is ‘The Art of Editing’ in which editors of various stripes discuss the changing face of editing in the publishing industry.

You can listen to the podcast here.

In particular the programme reviews the shift in the role of the editor, all the way from the beginning of publishing, when editing was little more than a grammatical function of the typesetter, through the development of the novel in the 19th and 20th centuries, to the marketing/commissioning role that has flourished into the 21st century.

What I find fascinating is the relatively new function of the editor as an advisor — even creatively — to the author, guiding sometimes un-publishable manuscripts from page to print. Authors, I think, can sometimes still take it for granted that their work will be extensively re-worked and edited with a fine-toothed comb, an expectation shared by the consuming public. I wonder whether this can lead to laziness in some cases, the author (particularly the successful author?) putting together a rough manuscript that is ‘good enough’, then handing it to the editing team to be made fit for public consumption? Or perhaps this has had a knock-on effect in self-publishing, with books being under-edited?

I’m being mean, of course. The vast majority of authors take enormous pride in their work, and the path to publishing is rougher than ever, meaning the first draft of a debut author’s first novel has to be almost superhumanly good in order to get through the punishing acquisitions process. But I do wonder how much the publishing world came to rely on editors, especially towards the end of the 20th century, and how much some authors are missing editors now that they have become so snowed under with all the other aspects of their increasingly demanding and varied role.

As I embark on my own journey to publishing with Endever Publishing Studios, I know I can expect the enormous privilege of having my work looked at in great detail by a demanding and exacting team. A part of me suspects that this is a rarity, for a debut author to have such attention lavished upon them through the development of the manuscript — but at the same time it has not made me slack off in my efforts to make the first ‘good’ draft as good as it can possibly be. I see it as a challenge — a contest between me and the blue pencil team, and a good contest: one that will, in the end, produce a work of fiction that is compelling and moving, and (hopefully) financially successful.

So what are your thoughts? Have you been commercially published? Did you have a good relationship with your editor? Have you self-published? Do you look back and wish your work had undergone more rigorous editing?

Let me know in the comments, and any thoughts on the podcast as well.


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