“You talk a lot about books you’ve read that you liked (or didn’t like). But how about books you’ve edited? Do you have to like a book to edit it?” An author friend of mine asked me this question not too long ago. “I’m just curious about how you do that. How do you set aside your personal feelings if you realize the book isn’t appealing to you?”
It’s an interesting question, and I can see why it would concern an author.
The short answer is: No, of course I don’t have to like it. I’m a professional, and I enjoy the mechanics of the work. I take pride in the quality of the work I deliver. I enjoy, also, teaching and encouraging writers, coaxing something wonderful out of a manuscript that may not be so wonderful at first glance. There’s been more than one manuscript cross my desk that I wasn’t crazy about when I started, but that then redeemed itself in one way or another.
In fact, you might get a better (more thorough) edit from me if I don’t love it so much.
I often get work from a publisher who publishes current event–type books, often those that espouse viewpoints from the opposite side of the political fence from me. And that’s precisely why I get the work: the managing editor knows me well, knows my political leanings. She also knows that I take my work very seriously. She hires me, she’s told me, to keep her authors “honest,” to make sure they’re not just spouting hot air but are backing up their claims with facts and research from good, unbiased sources..
I don’t have to like the content or purpose of these books to do good work.
Another managing editor admitted over lunch one day that he sends me the novels he knows are going to need a lot of work. He sends me “the hard ones.” I groaned, because I’d been suspecting as much for months. Why? I asked. Why, why, why? “Because you’re thorough,” he said. “I know you’ll get the most out of it. You’ll find the good.”
Frankly if a managing editor is describing an upcoming edit as “hard,” that usually means the manuscript has some issues; it isn’t great yet. Ergo, I won’t like it very much. But I will work very hard to find the good. Regardless of the novel’s story or structure, there are plenty of “marks” an editor wants a manuscript to hit, and we can work on those things, whether or not I find the story appealing.
Furthermore, I will learn a lot from it. I learn from every manuscript I work on, for real. But working on books I didn’t much like has taught me a lot, for example, about how to talk to creatives. It has taught me to recognize good ideas, good words, good lines when I see them in the middle of something less-than-good. It has taught me how to make the most of these things. It has taught me a lot about human nature. It has taught me a lot about myself.
Tweet: Do you have to like a book to edit it?
Tweet: I don’t have to like the content or purpose of a book to do good work.
Tweet: Working on books I didn’t like has taught me a lot about how to talk to creatives.
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