[In Part I, I chewed on this question
without resolving it. In Part II ...
... some answers.]
Dear Friend of Frank,
I've held many editor jobs in my working life, starting with proofreader when I was in high school and my buddies were bagging groceries. (I bagged groceries too. I lasted one day, at the end of which I knew shoulder pain I'd never imagined.)
At 27, I was Night City Editor in the Chicago bureau of The Associated Press, a grand title for a young pup. During the Watergate years I was an editor at The Washington Post, one of a long string of folks massaging the Pulitzer-bound copy of Woodward & Bernstein. Then I left Big Journalism to become editor-in-chief of a newsletter publishing company; then held that same title with a newsletter company I co-founded; and finally held the title in my own publishing company. (I was chief cook and bottle washer too.)
All along, I'd rather have been a reporter/writer.
I was a reporter, a damn good one if I say so myself. Damn good writer too. Trouble was, I was also no slouch as an editor. I kept getting offered the title, always with more money and more authority. Hard to turn down.
When I finally jumped ship, leaving The Mighty Washington Post for a newsletter publisher with six employees and offices above a furniture store, it was due to a) more money – lots more money, b) great title, editor-in-chief, c) boss authority, d) a company devoted to kick-ass journalism, and e) the clincher: I'd still be a reporter-writer.
(I may have been kidding myself on this point. It was a small company, albeit an extremely successful one. There were two reporters plus myself, challenged to fill eight pages a week with kick-ass stories. I'd have had to be a reporter regardless.)
Once I adapted to the limitations, however -– an audience in the thousands vs. an audience of the entire world; working in a niche, petroleum marketing, about which I knew nothing (I could barely spell 'gasoline' at first) -– I thrived. Niches can be cozy.
The Present Moment
I've dwelt on the journalism model because I've spent so much of my working life there. Now I'm in the literary world and it's different. There are no runny-nosed cub reporters. Authors, it's assumed, know what they're doing. Editors really are there to elicit the best.
Which brings me to TouchPoint Press, which is to bring out my "Chicago Trilogy" next year. We've finished editing two of the three Trilogy novels, To Do Justice (#3) and To Love Mercy (#1). So far I've never met nor spoken to my editor.
It's been great.
Remember my friend Richard from Part I? Richard argued that editors are out to crush your spirit and your dreams. My TouchPoint editor, Mallory Matthews, is not a Richard nightmare. She is an author's dream.
She edits with a light touch: if it ain't broke, she doesn't fix it. But there's nothing so good it can't be made better. If she spots something problematic, she doesn't make the change, she proposes it. If I don't understand, she explains. If I don't agree, we discuss. Sometimes it's substantive. More often it's small stuff, down to the comma level. Commas are important. We both think so.
Eventually we resolve. Sometimes she prevails, sometimes I do, but nobody "wins" because it isn't a contest of wills. The relationship is entirely via email but that matters not. We're working with the same goal: to make the good better.
It could easily have been otherwise.
Put yourself in my position: A new author with an unknown-quantity publisher. Assignment to an editor I've never met, never talked to, whose qualifications I don't know, nor even where she's located.* Yet she has all the power. I'm scared.
*The Norfolk VA area as it happens
But we start out on just the right foot. She likes my novels. A lot. Hey, I'm cooked. Stick a fork in me.
It could easily have been otherwise. My friend Richard isn't wrong, you know. Some editors are hounds from hell. One of my National Journal editors was a very sadist. He took grim pleasure in humiliating me, to a point that I found myself fantasizing about murdering him.
But I confess it: I have been such an editor myself.
OK, I was young. I'd had drill-sergeant role models of my own. I was under the usual pressures to keep the work moving. And over time I'd had some bozos writing for me, four of whom I fired.
So I emulated my drill-sergeant role models. I came down on copy with my elbows. I chastised. I made fun of. I embarrassed and shamed.
Shame on me.
The drill-sergeant model may be OK with hatchling journalists, I've come to see, but not with professionals. They've paid dues of their own. They have egos too. They deserve respect.
Besides, it works better.
Frank S Joseph
Author, the Chicago Trilogy [forthcoming from TouchPoint Press]
P.S. To Love Mercy, the first novel of the Chicago Trilogy, was published previously by Mid Atlantic Highlands (2006). I'd like to share this five-star review of the 2006 edition just posted on Goodreads by Jennifer Rupp, who writes sexy Highland romances under the pen name Jennifer Trethewey:
Jennifer Rupp rated a book it was amazing
To Love Mercy
by Frank S. Joseph
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1 of 5 stars2 of 5 stars3 of 5 stars4 of 5 stars5 of 5 stars
In a time when even having a discussion about race can erupt into controversy, this gentle but forthright story reminds us that we are not born with prejudice, we learn it. From chapter one, the reader is plunged into the deep end of Chicago during an era many readers won't remember, but will picture clearly because of the author's skill and because, ultimately, we are not all that different as people. Like the Old and the New Testament, moments of love and beauty temper the ugliness and fear of the real world. We may never achieve the equality and freedom the tenets of our constitution profess, but we can do more than hope. We can strive to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly. I received a signed copy of To Love Mercy from the author, Frank S. Joseph. I wanted to share the story, but I loved the book so much, I wanted to keep it for myself. So, I bought another copy to give to a friend and I recommend To Love Mercy to you. Read it with love.
P.P.S. Would you like to write a review too? I still have a limited number of copies of the 2006 edition on hand. Drop me a request at email@example.com. Be sure to include your postal mailing address.
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