Thursday, September 20, 2007

Appreciating Editors

They say that behind every successful man is a woman (and behind her is his wife--a joke by Groucho Marx). Some writers have a similar relationship with their editors (and there are several talented female editors you know; Ellen Datlow comes to mind but locally, Nikki Alfar is perhaps even a better editor than her husband, Dean Alfar, although perhaps not as actively marketing herself to the public). While writing is a solitary act, the act of publishing isn't. Publishing is a complex process that involves a lot of people that can, at times, are unrecognized (by the public) for their contributions. It's usually the author who gets the limelight or at times, the publisher. Where's the editor love?

Of course if you've read a lot of books, you'll notice that in the dedication page, more than a few authors thank their editors. The magic of the editors is that they're like your guardian angel (or an efficient intelligence service): readers don't notice them if they're doing something right. Editors are only noticed when there's a screw-up (readers might criticize the editor for the one mistake they didn't catch but don't thank them for the 10 errors they did catch... and you'll never know the latter; that's the secret between author and editor) or when someone is suing the broadsheet for libel. Yet editors fulfill a very important role. Gary Kamiya has an article in Salon entitled Let Us Now Praise the Editors and talks about the hocus pocus an editor does for his writers (and sadly I've been there during high school, rewriting entire news articles that the original author doesn't recognize it as their own).

The exception for me is when it comes to anthologies. More than the big name authors featured in an anthology, I'm interested in who's the editor of a collection. For me, editors are like book reviewers: it's not so much important that they get it right more than that their tastes align with yours. If you're a fan of -insert genre or sub-genre-, you'll most likely prefer an editor who's made a name for himself or herself in that genre/sub-genre. For me, when I grab a hold of a short story collection, the editor's name is the most important thing. I don't care if there are big name authors or no-name authors: what I want are stories that I enjoy. If there's a famous author in the anthology, well and good. If there's a writer I've never read before, then it's a great discovery. But the credit doesn't go to me, it goes to the editor who screens and edits the work of authors and ultimately gives a recommendation to readers.

More than a few editors have made a reputation for themselves. The first one that easily comes to mind are Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling (now Gavin Grant and Kelly Link) for The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror. There's also Gardner Dozois or David G. Hartwell for science fiction although I do prefer Rich Horton as of late. McSweeneys was virtually Dave Eggers's baby. And in the Philippines, Dean and Nikki Alfar are behind the now-annual Philippine Speculative Fiction (not to mention the various local fiction publications whose editors hold sway whether a story will be rejected or not).

What many might fail to recognize is how big an impact an editor has. There are, I think, a lot of aspiring writers but I don't often hear people wishing that they'd be the next great editor. It seems that at times, a writer involuntarily gets handed the editor position and then work their way up from there. Yet the reality is, many modern writers wouldn't have been known or recognized if it weren't for the talents of a good editor, either including them in a publication or giving helpful advice to transform the text into an even better reading experience. The late Lester del Rey is easily one of the most recognizable champions of the genre: not only was he a great writer, he was perhaps an even greater editor. (As a writer, it's a tempting mentality to think "if only I had a good editor".)

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