This was my end-of-semester reflection for my Book Editing class. The last paragraph is particularly amusing because it's just about the most pretentious thing anyone has ever written, yet I'm trying to use it to explain that editors aren't pretentious.
When I first signed up for the Book Editing class, I honestly didn’t know whether I wanted to be an editor or not, mostly because I promised myself when I came to Emerson that I would be open to the many and varied opportunities that exist in publishing. "Sure you may think you want to be an editor,” I told myself. “But everyone who goes into publishing thinks they want to be an editor because they don’t know what else is out there."
This attitude of openness was a good one to have at the beginning of my Emerson career. But at the end of my first year—after purposely seeking out publishing experiences outside of the editorial world—I am pretty confident in saying that I want to work in editorial. Yes, production, publicity, and marketing are all fun fields. And yes, I’m capable of understanding the financial and legal aspects of publishing. But nothing compares to the thrill of working with ideas, people, and words as an editor.
As an undergraduate, I majored in English literature and psychology. I remember saying that I thought I would love to work in counseling if I could only have intelligent, highly verbal clients. Of course, there is no field of psychology that would allow a therapist to have only these types of clients. But the author/editor relationship contains some of the elements I liked about psychology: discussing complex, intellectual, personal issues from multiple perspectives; building good rapport; and adapting one’s techniques depending on who is sitting on the other side of the desk. I really enjoy the challenge of understanding and working with all sorts of people, and the author/editor relationship provides many such opportunities.
I love working with ideas—and their mode of transportation, words—just as much as I love working with people. There is something invigorating about seeing the potential in a manuscript and knowing that you could be the fresh set of eyes that helps it reach that potential. The non-fiction ethnographic manuscript I worked with in this class has so much potential both as a literary work and as a book that might make some of its readers think differently about the world. Getting the chance to work with books like that would not only be fun; it would be meaningful.
Because I am much more focused on big ideas and themes, I would like to be an acquisitions and/or developmental editor. I would love to build my own lists, and I’d love to help polish every book on that list. When a young editor from Beacon Press came to our class and talked about starting her own list of graphic novels, I got really excited to think that she had been sitting in my position just a few years ago.
Speaking of Beacon Press, that is one of the ideal types of houses I would like to work for. I am much more attracted to small, independent houses because I think I’d get more opportunities to try different things. They usually need staff members to have broader job descriptions, and they aren’t so set in their ways that they can’t recognize fresh, innovative ideas. I also love that Beacon Press is mission-driven; I strongly desire to work for a house that publishes important, elegant books, especially non-fiction.
In addition to small presses like Beacon, I could also see myself working for a university press, particularly one that does quite a few books that cross over into trade. I like books that explore complex ideas, but I especially like books that can express these ideas in such a way that an educated, non-expert can understand and be moved by them. This allows the books to have more influence, and it also usually means that they avoided the “dry as dust” pitfall that so many academic books succumb to.
One final, semi-facetious note about working as an editor: I like that you get to be smart without being pretentious. There aren’t too many editors whose walls are ostentatiously covered with diplomas or who expect instant respect the minute they spout off their job titles. Nevertheless, most editors are well-read with a broad range of interests, have a fast learning curve, invent creative and innovative ways to solve problems, and balance technical precision with aesthetic sensibility. If that’s not intelligence, I don’t know what is.