the Editors' Association of Canada
Six Measures of a Good (Great) Editor
By Anita Jenkins
1. An editor doesn't take over
The editor's function is to provide suggestions and advice,
but that advice has to fall within some fairly strict boundaries.
Specifically, the editor:
· respects the author's voice
· understands the purpose of the manuscript - what the author
and publisher are trying to achieve
· has a good understanding of the intended audience and always
keeps that audience in mind
· remains objective and to some extent disinterested. For
example, if a manuscript is about dogs, the fact that the editor
loves cats and hates dogs should not have a discernible effect on
his or her work.
· is prepared to negotiate and compromise regarding style,
provided the end product remains clear, accurate and accessible
A good editor is flexible, perceptive, intelligent and responsive.
2. An editor takes over
The editor has to say, "If you don't want me to edit this,
don't give it to me."
Since the editor's first loyalty is to the reader, the editor tells
the author or publisher - in no uncertain terms - when the manuscript
lacks focus, when whole sections must be chopped, when structural
changes need to be made and so on. The editor also watches for material
that could be libelous or that might require reprint permission
and notifies the author or publisher accordingly.
A good editor is tactful but firm - and confident.
3. An editor has a strong work ethic
By the time a manuscript is ready to be edited, time and money
are at stake.
Therefore, an editor should:
· accept only projects she or he can handle
· be prepared to fulfill contracts and honour agreements
· keep the author and publisher on track and focused regarding
deadlines, decisions about style and so on
· meet deadlines, without fail
· be available to meet with the author and publisher, and
show up for appointments.
A good editor has what the Conference Board of Canada calls "employability
4. An editor is a good human being
An editor's job is to assess the manuscript and provide honest
and objective feedback. Only a good human being can handle this
delicate task effectively. After all, writing entails a significant
amount of sweat and tears. Also, since writing is intensely personal
- whether it's fiction or non-fiction - publishing one's writing
involves a great emotional risk.
If an editor has to give a bad report card, the message must be
delivered in the gentlest and most humane way possible.
A good editor is ethical, caring, warm and approachable.
5. An editor knows the English language and the publishing
I have deliberately placed knowledge of English towards the
end of my list although many would expect it to come first. It goes
without saying that an editor understands all aspects of grammar,
punctuation, sentence structure and the nuances of communication
and clear expression.
6. An editor knows when to stop editing*
Some reasons for stopping are practical:
· There's no more time, money and/or energy.
· Only a certain amount of effort is justifiable because
the piece has a limited shelf life and/or audience. (A community
newspaper isn't the same as a novel that has the potential to win
a Governor General's award.)
Other reasons are more subtle:
· The author's voice will be lost if anyone, including the
author, plays with the manuscript any more.
· Both the editor and the author are past caring.
A good editor knows that there's no such thing as a perfect book.
* Lenore d'Anjou suggested this sixth measure. Lenore, an award-winning
editor from Toronto, is an honorary life member of the Editors'
Association of Canada.
Anita Jenkins, a freelance editor and writer in Edmonton, is
co-editor of Active Voice, the national newsletter of the Editor's
Association of Canada.
This article originally appeared in Sources
#41, Winter 1998.
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