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Finding the Right Editor

Colum McCann > Letters to Young Writers > Finding the Right Editor

A great editor is a precious thing. Maybe it’s your best friend. Maybe it’s a classmate. Maybe it’s a workshop participant. Maybe it’s your husband. Maybe it’s someone you hire. Or maybe it’s the editor at your publishing house. No matter what, the right editor has to be someone you trust. You have to give them space. You have to give them time. You have to listen. You have to be humble in the presence of their opinion. Simple as it sounds, you have to respect them. You don’t always have to agree with them. It’s about your own ability to see someone else re-shaping your work. But it’s also about their ability to be wrong. You must assess the value of what they say. Try the sentence with their edit. Try it without. Speak it aloud. Say it again. Thank them for the edit, even if you didn’t use it. Be mindful that your editor has a life. She has children. She has other writers. Be curious about their lives too. She is not a box to be ticked off. Your editor is the sculptor of your writing. Make sure it is not a sculpture made of ice. Stone it. Granite it. Chisel it. Be forgiving when you don’t hear back the very next day. Be thankful when the suggestions arrive. Send your editor a note thanking her for her edits. And remember she does so much more than editing. She negotiates your deal. She gets your books sent out. She goes to marketing meetings. She watches you get the praise, and gets little herself. And, if you don’t get the praise, she suffers. It’s a tough street. An editor is a person who knows what the limelight is and has chosen to shadow it. Acknowledge that shadow, that shade, that shape. Step into it yourself. And edit yourself too, before she edits you. And every now and then send her flowers out of the blue.