When working with designers, Marshall Lee, in his well-known volume Bookmaking, says that, “Editors are involved with the design/production process in two ways: (a) imparting knowledge of the book to design, and (b) checking the preparation of the book for accuracy”.
This part can also be difficult because it can easily turn into a game of telephone, where the editor receives one message from the author, and then tries to convert that into a manageable verbal description that then will be executed by a designer, who is going to have their own conceptions of the work and tendencies towards styles. It is very important that a suitable designer be assigned, as that will usually make the process proceed with fewer problems.
“Start trends, don’t follow them.”
“An editor selects manuscripts, a publisher selects editors.”
-M. Lincoln Schuster
Keeping these quotes in mind, it follows, or precedes in this case, that an author while creating their manuscript, selects experiences and feelings. They live their lives accumulating them, and if they have the patience and the talent they are able to turn those experiences into a story. It is up to careful editor to be able to know which experiences a particular market needs. It can be said that the trick is to find out what the market wants, and then deliver it to them, but that will always have an editor following trends, instead of starting them.
The good editor must be so tuned into the world around them that when the right theme hits them they can’t help but know that it needs to be injected into the culturestream. A good editor must be able to relate to the marketing department from the perspective of wanting to give them the best opportunity to properly direct the book at the right readers in a way that matches the tone of the work. This can often end in a Catch-22 situation.
Marketing departments are right when they say that if the book does not sell, not only will the press be unable to sustain itself, but also (and perhaps worse), if the book never hits a readers hand, it will never be a part of the culture. And an editor can retort that if the techniques used to market the book may alienate the audience, and then the same will be true, and the press will lose its credibility. It is at this crux in which an editor must tread carefully. The success of a project is important to an entire press, but the amount of ‘political capitol’ that an editor has must continually be assessed. Butt heads with marketing or sales too hard or too often and they, who are professionals in their own right, will be less accepting of an editor’s input in the future. The only real skill an editor can use in these instances is knowing when and how to pick their battles. There will always be compromise with any project, and an editor, even when convinced and feeling secure on the moral high ground of literary integrity, must know when to give in for the sake of the work.
As has been mentioned, an editor must be attuned to their audience. They also must ensure that the writers take their audiences level of knowledge in to account. (This does not mean dumb down, it simply means that an editor must know the market for the book). This is all much easier if an editor knows who their audience actually is, and it is much easier if the author already knows who their audience is. This is possibly the most difficult part of the job, and it is a skill that is required of all editors, whether they be in acquisitions, copyediting, or management. Without being able to define and audience there is no way to be in touch with them, no way to figure out what they want or what they need.
Once an audience has been identified though, the good editor will learn as much as possible about them (and a good manager will assign the right editor to the project). Being attuned to the audience means knowing (and being in front of) the trends. The only way to really do well at this is to be as well-read and experienced as possible. A good editor, with many exceptions, will likely not be an expert in any one field—unless that field is life, and more specifically, the lives of the people that comprise ‘the audience’. They must read the books their audience reads, watch the TV and movies that they watch (a good editor must not forget where many people are getting their stories from), and if possible, spend time with them. An audience must be researched well, and in as many ways as possible.
Next I will talk about editing literary fiction in particular and conclude this series.