September 2, 2010
Defining the Relationship--An Editor's Perspective
"You don't expect your editor to become your friend." I was a little embarrassed, a little impressed with myself, when Adam Taylor (his book Mobilizing Hope is just back from the printer) mentioned that in passing to a group of my coworkers. I was also, I can admit now, a little offended.
Why in the world wouldn't you expect your editor to become your friend?!? Do editors have that bad a reputation? I mean . . . OK, I know we can be a bit nerdy, and we are in the habit of telling people what they've done wrong and how we think they should do it better. I know we sit in little cells passing judgment day in and day out on the quality of other people's ideas, their capacity to communicate, their ability to engage an audience. So yeah . . . sure . . . editors can be awful, awful people--truly horrid--and not the ones you'd hole up with in a corner at a party, forsaking all others to hang out with. (OK, now I'm a little depressed.)
But friendship isn't just a matter of assessing compatibilities. Friendship is a trust, and trust is inherent to the editorial process. I seek out authors whom I can trust with my own faith and character and intellect; these folks have ideas and insights about things I'm willing to invest the next year or two learning, because that really is what the editorial process is for me. I seek out authors whom I will be proud to affiliate myself with, because for better or for worse, their life's work becomes part of my portfolio--part of how I understand and represent myself to the world. I attach myself to authors the way remoras attach themselves to sharks--hopefully not dragging them down or leeching their lifesource, but undeniably poaching their passion and borrowing liberally from their wisdom. When I go looking for an author, that's what I'm looking for, and when I find it, I befriend it. Sorry if that creeps you out.
Hopefully I'm able to offer some trust in exchange. An author's manuscript is in many ways his or her baby: something that's slowly gestated in the mind, demanding nourishment and special attention, resembling the parent at the most essential levels, carrying immediately--by virtue of its existence--a portion of the parent's legacy. You hand your baby to a stranger or an acquaintance as a nicety, because they love babies; when you're looking for the truth about your baby, you take it to a doctor; when you want to hear the truth enveloped in love, or love that is committed to truth, you turn to a friend.
I'm overstating it, of course, and many authors have managed to shake free of these intense exaggerations of the publishing process. (That's what agents are for--OMG! JK!) The editorial process for those authors remains largely transactional--contracts signed, services rendered, money exchanged. And that's entirely appropriate, I suppose. But the game changes entirely when you open yourself to the possibility that this isn't just a transaction but a relationship you've entered into; this isn't just a mechanical process you've undertaken but a potentially quixotic mission you've set out on, with your editor happily serving as your nerdy Sancho Panza.
On the way home from dinner with Adam and my coworkers, I checked my voicemail (sorry, Oprah) to find a message from another author-friend, Sean Gladding, whose book The Story of God, the Story of Us returned from the printer the same day as Adam's. Sean was on his way out with some friends, and he and I hadn't talked in a while, so he wanted to just say hi. Like a friend would.