about writing and life and God

Being professional

on March 11, 2013

I’m an old-fashioned writer. I enjoy the division of labour involved in old-fashioned print publishing. To me, it’s familiar and comfortable. This is not surprising considering I worked in print book publishing from the early 1970s. (Yes, I am that old!) My very first published book was Bluff Your Way in Publishing, giving the low-down on what goes on inside the world of the book publisher.

I started in book publishing as a desk editor – based on my experience as a newspaper proof-reader and occasional copy-editor. At 19, I had been solely responsible for the proof-reading of the two weekly newspapers produced in my area but the much longer haul of books – and in my case, academic books – needed considerable adjustment.

I worked my up, from desk editor, to editorial manager with a bit of marketing responsibility thrown in, then moved over from the ‘making the book side’ to the coaching and selecting authors side as commissioning editor and publisher, later gathering together all the experience, an MBA in Finance, and winging it a bit on the others as Publishing Director.

I’m really glad I began as a desk editor. As a result, I have an enormous respect for desk editors and freelance editors. In Bluff Your Way I described them as “the galley slaves without whom the ship will get nowhere”.

Digital Image

It’s just as well, because as an author I encounter the editor’s red pen with each ‘baby’ I tremblingly hand over. When the edited manuscript comes back and I’m allowed to see what has happened to it, a measure of humility is required. Prima donnas not wanted here!

The first time I saw that red pen all over my work was Bluff Your Way. I was on holiday in Dorset and the proofs arrived for me to check and deal with any queries. Proudly I took them upstairs after breakfast and sat myself down on the bed. I tore off the wrapping paper and settled myself down importantly with notebook and pen. And after a few pages went ballistic.

There are editors and editors. At one end of the continuum are those who have done so little you can barely see any sign that they’ve read your book. At the other are the would-be writers who take it upon themselves to rewrite your precious words to their own style and taste. In between are those whose judicious changes enhance your words, remove your errors and any embarrassments, and whose light touch renders them a precious gift to the writer.

Back to ballistic in Dorset. As I hung, seething, just below the ceiling of our hotel bedroom, I had a flash of good sense: if I was going to be a published author, I needed to decide now what kind of author I was going to be. As an editor in my earlier days, I had met them all – another continuum ranging from prima donna (“You toucha my prose, I smasha your face”) to the professional who just got on with it, sent the edited manuscript back with the queries answered on time and as helpfully and least-work-making as possible.

I knew which kind of author I liked to work with, and who later was the one I returned to work with as a commissioning editor. So I peeled myself off the ceiling and settled down to be professional.

Today (thanks, Kathryn!) there were no prima donna blasts from the past. I’m working steadily through a well-edited manuscript. Her work improves mine and I am grateful.

And thanks to the team at SPCK, we’ll make the August 2013 publication date for the new book, When the Time Comes for Residential Care: meditations and prayers. It’s got a great cover design. I’ll see if I can get permission to show you that soon!


2 responses to “Being professional

  1. cfdunnn says:

    Editors can be unsung heroes. Mine is one of the rare ones who holds back from interfering with my writing style, puts me right with due regard to my sensitive artistic temperament (OK, you can stop laughing now, K.E.) makes great suggestions, and is happy to negotiate on the niggily points about which I feel strongly. I think I’m blessed.

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