Writers, journalists and others among the creatively talented are often heard complaining about how the piece they gave the editor was somehow substantially different from the one that was finally published. And sometimes you cannot but thank God for that.
Editors are God’s blessings to the literary world and saviors for us readers. Direct descendants of the Gods of Grammar, they know their prepositions from their conjunctions and actually are the ones responsible for churning out substance from the sea of nonsense that a lot of writers/ authors often refer to as great works of artistic writing. It is this clan of people who are responsible for correcting erroneous writing, be it jarring spelling or syntax errors or imperceptible errors in punctuation which often tend to entirely change the meaning of the message the author was trying to convey. Nevertheless, it is because of them that we readers do not have to face the brunt of hurried or careless typing, and bad to sometimes non-existent grammatical sensibilities.
However, an editor’s task is not an easy one. With an eye as sharp as that of an eagle they have to be adept at spotting mistakes, however, the minute they might be and capable of correcting them. In fact, the necessity of a good editor is often understood in the absence of one. Here are a few qualities that are must-haves for an editor.
1. Subject Matter Expertise
It is an editor’s responsibility to make sure that the readers get the value for their money and hence it is imperative that he present the written word in a manner that is easily understood by all. Writers being the artists, superfluousness becomes almost second nature. It is then up to the editor to remove the bombastic expressions and make the text a simple read so that the reader does not have to qualify to be an Oxford graduate or be best friends with the dictionary! Moreover, to be able to convey the right meaning only through the written word might not be the easiest task. When speaking, a person has the liberty to use tonality and body language to convey exactly what he wants to. But the same is not true when it comes to the writing; while writing a person has to put together what he would otherwise convey through his tonality and body language into his writing and that may not be the easiest task to accomplish. Hence it is then again up to the editor to make sense of what the writer had in mind and convey that to the intended audience. To do that flawlessly an editor would need to have an extensive grasp of the subject matter.
2. Command Over Language
Writers often have the tendency to use bombastic language in order to attach depth and gravity to their content. This is why a writer is often unsuccessful at establishing a direct connection with the audience. It is the editor’s job to remove all traces of such misdirected eloquence and present to the readers the text in a manner that can be easily understood. An editor needs to have exceptionally good command over language so that he can not only spot the mistakes but is capable of correcting them too, keeping the essence of the message intact.
An editor is supposed to be the reader’s man and it is his job to know what may appeal to the reader and what may not and accordingly present the text. His job is to make the text lucid for readers to absorb the information and content without having to tax their brains too much.
3. A Keen Eye
Very importantly, an editor must be able to spot mistakes, be it syntax or punctuation errors without MS Word having to highlight them for him. Usually, the human mind works in such a way that if you are reading something that’s written by someone you know and trust there is a blind spot of the human mind that comes into play. In this case, you tend to overlook the mistakes made by the person unless they are very obvious and jarring. However, the same piece of writing being read by someone who doesn’t know the author may end up giving the reader a headache owing to the presence of several mistakes. Since there is hardly any recognition and trust in the latter scenario, the reader is able to pick out mistakes in the text way more easily and effectively. Hence it is extremely important that an editor has a sharp eye that is able to pick out the mistakes even in content that is written by the best in the business. At the same time, though he needs to be a man of reason and not one of the many raging egoists, and should, therefore, make sure that he does not attempt to make corrections unnecessarily. If he receives a flawless piece of work he should be able to pass it on without urging to make unnecessary changes.
The editor must have the understanding that each author may have his/her own style of writing which may or may not be according to the taste of the editor. He should be capable of being objective in a scenario where the author’s style of writing may not be in tandem with his personal taste and should be able to take a call without letting his personal bias get in the way.
A highly sought-after quality in an editor that most individuals today lack; no wonder good editors are becoming increasingly difficult to find. An editor is a guide and the mentor for a lot of new writers and hence should show signs of an organized and balanced mind, with perspective and understanding of what is best for the publication. He needs to have the ability to maintain his calm as publishing houses mostly work under intense pressure of deadlines. A high on excitement situation should not take a toll on his accuracy, judgment or sanity. It is also the editor’s responsibility to organize content and source ideas for content that will hold the interest of the readers. Hence it is imperative that he be thoughtful and objective and knows how to get the best out of the writers. A raging egoist would do more harm than good to the publishing house.
5. Ability To Deal With Criticism
An editor’s job is certainly not the best job in the world! Ranging between pressuring to sometimes even thankless, an editor is faced with a lot of criticism. Writers, especially experienced ones are not particularly fond of the editors because they are the ones who mostly take the call on what needs to be written about and can easily veto any writer’s hours of hard work. Good writers usually pour their hearts out while writing and hence are very sensitive to criticism or changes. Since it is the editor’s job to ‘clean’ a particular piece of writing, it is not difficult to assume why they are not frequent contenders of the ‘best boss’ awards! However, an editor needs to have the ability to deal with all the criticism that may come his way and still deliver with as much drive and passion as may be necessary. He must have the ability to sort out disagreements with the writers without getting personal and should be capable of dealing with wry looks or even contempt from them without taking it personally.
Being an editor, and a good one at that is thus not everyone’s cup of tea. Even if your English is flawless and eloquence is your virtue, you may not be a successful editor, solely because editorial skills go way beyond basic language skills. While an editor’s job may not be the best job, it is because of him that a publishing house is able to maintain its standards and retain its readers. And any and every publishing house knows that full well, irrespective of whether they publicly acknowledge the fact (and most of them don’t!!). Well, if not for the editor any newspaper or magazine would be in a state of absolute mayhem!